Fifteen years ago the Tampa Bay Rays had next to zero presence in the amateur International Free Agent market. With the transition of ownership from Vince Naimoli to Stu Sternberg the Rays started to tap into that market.
It takes time to establish a presence and develop relationships with trainers. Before the arrival of Jose Alvarado and Diego Castillo it would be tough to find another player the Rays signed other than Alex Colome that helped the big league club. Felipe Vazquez (formerly Felipe Rivero), German Marquez, Jose Castillo, and Genesis Cabrera were used as trade chips, so not all was lost.
As a small market team one just can’t sit out of one of the ways to acquire young talent. It has been a long process, but the Rays are starting to show success in the IFA market.
Wander Franco is the Rays number one prospect on the list the writers at DRaysBay have put together, along with every other source that has posted a list this year.
The Consensus Favorite
Franco was the number one prospect in his July 2nd signing class and signed with the Rays for $3,825,000. Before playing a minor league game Baseball America ranked him #96 on their top 100 list heading into last year. This year he has catapulted all the way to #4 in this year’s iteration.
Franco headlines one of the best farm systems in the game, and he has performed like few his age ever have.
The Rays aggressively had Franco skip the Gulf Coast League and head straight to Princeton to play in the Appalachian League, where Franco’s first taste of minor league ball was impressive. He hit .351/.418/.587 and put up a 159 wRC+ while hitting 11 homers in 273 plate appearances. He only struck out 19 times (7.0%) while earning while walking 27 times (9.9%).
While his stat line alone is impressive, the tools might be even more so. He has lightning quick hands, and while there isn’t as much projection left in his body it’s of minor concern as he is already getting to his power in games at age 17.
Franco should be able to stick at short, at least at the start of his major league career, but has the skills and bat to be able to move to third or second.
The Rays have had several high draft picks and ones that worked out quite well, but it’s possible Franco has achieved more hype at this point than any other prospect in franchise history.
Franco is expected to be assigned to Bowling Green, where will he will be challenged with his first full season league after turning 18 years old during spring training.
While the Rays typically have not been the speediest team to promote prospects through the minors they already have done something that they haven’t done before in having a 17 year old skip the GCL.
If Franco conquers two levels a season, that would put him in the conversation of being MLB ready in 2021. Some believe he could be the next teenager in the major leagues, but that would require him to make his debut in 2020.
During the spring of 2021 Franco would be the same age that Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. is heading into this season.
Growth isn’t linear for all players; however, seeing young guys like Ronald Acuna and Juan Soto perform like they did last year makes it fun to dream about what Franco could be, even if some bumps along the road should be expected.