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Rays top prospect Wander Franco is a freak of nature!

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The Rays wunderkind is doing things that aren’t possible for mere mortals.

Adam Sanford

If you’re reading this, you’ve heard of Wander Franco.

You know he’s a top prospect (maybe THE top prospect). You know he’s gifted with a exceptional tools and talent.

What you may not know is just how rare his combination of youth, contact ability, and power is among minor leaguers. Outlier may not be a strong enough descriptor; the guy’s a unicorn.

Let’s start with just how young he is. Since 2003 (the earliest year for which Fangraphs has minor-league data), there have been about 75 players who have accumulated at least 150 PAs in full-season A ball and at least 400 PAs stateside as a professional through their age-18 season.

Franco is among them. He has 212 PAs in A ball this year and 485 career PAs as a professional, with about half of those coming for Princeton in the Appalachian League last year. His in-season age for the purpose of record keeping doesn’t tell the whole tale, though.

Because the age cutoff is in July, a player born in July of Year 1 can be counted the same age as a player born in June of Year 2, even though the player born in July is nearly a year older.

Instead let’s look at how many months old each of these players was on April 1 of their A-ball season.

(Editor’s Note: There are some lengthy tables in this article that are of this length to provide context. If you are on mobile, apologies and keep scrolling for the analysis!)

Youngest Players in Full-season A Ball, 2003 to present

Name Season Team Age at A (M)
Name Season Team Age at A (M)
Carlos Tocci 2013 Phillies (A) 211
Angel Villalona 2008 Giants (A) 211
Domingo Santana 2010 Phillies (A) 211
Wilmer Flores 2009 Mets (A) 211
Adalberto Mondesi 2013 Royals (A) 212
Jefry Marte 2009 Mets (A) 213
Luis Garcia 2018 Nationals (A) 214
Justin Lopez 2018 Padres (A) 214
Nomar Mazara 2013 Rangers (A) 215
Leury Garcia 2009 Rangers (A) 216
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 2017 Blue Jays (A) 216
Tirso Ornelas 2018 Padres (A) 216
Wander Franco 2019 Rays (A) 217
Oswaldo Cabrera 2017 Yankees (A) 217
Gabriel Arias 2018 Padres (A) 217
Omar Estevez 2016 Dodgers (A) 217
Jomar Reyes 2015 Orioles (A) 217
Jurickson Profar 2011 Rangers (A) 217
Isaac Paredes 2017 Cubs (A) 217
Rougned Odor 2012 Rangers (A) 217
Reinaldo Ilarraza 2017 Padres (A) 218
Ozzie Albies 2015 Braves (A) 218
Ruddy Giron 2015 Padres (A) 218
Fernando Tatis Jr. 2017 Padres (A) 218
Oscar Tejeda 2008 Red Sox (A) 219
Gleyber Torres 2015 Cubs (A) 219
Jose Devers 2018 Marlins (A) 219
Gary Sanchez 2011 Yankees (A) 219
Jesus Montero 2008 Yankees (A) 220
Dorssys Paulino 2013 Indians (A) 220

By this more accurate accounting of age, Wander Franco is the 13th youngest player (our little Wander, only 217 months old) in the last 16 years to have made at least 150 PAs in A ball and 400 PAs total as a pro before turning 19. He was just 18 years and one month old when the minor-league season began.

Distinguishing between months like this may sound trivial, but it’s not. We know teams factor these considerations into draft models and use them to make decisions. Wander’s success as a very young 18 year old makes his performance all the more impressive and bodes even better for his big-league future than if he were approaching his 19th birthday.

Okay, so we know he’s extremely young for a guy in A ball. That alone is fairly impressive, but what makes Wander so remarkable is his success on the field at such a tender age. In particular, his ability to make contact is nearly unparalleled since 2003.

Through 212 PAs in A ball, he has a 4.2% swinging strike rate (SwStr%). In the 485 PAs of his entire stateside pro career, he has a 5.3% swinging strike rate.

For the uninitiated, swinging strike rate is simply the number of times a player swings and misses divided by the number of pitches he sees. So for every 20 pitches thrown to him, Franco has swung and missed about one time, on average. That’s a fantastic rate.

There are only eight qualified big-league hitters with swinging strike rates under 5% this year. Three of them are Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Michael Brantley.

Here are the top 30 swinging strike rates for all the minor leaguers in my data set.

Swinging Strikes Rates for 18-year-olds in A ball, 2003 to present

Name Season Team Age at A PA at A SwStr% at A Total Pro PAs Total SwStr%
Name Season Team Age at A PA at A SwStr% at A Total Pro PAs Total SwStr%
Wander Franco 2019 Rays (A) 18 212 4.2% 485 5.3%
Orlando Arcia 2013 Brewers (A) 18 486 7.5% 486 7.5%
Keibert Ruiz 2017 Dodgers (A) 18 251 8.9% 457 8.7%
Luis Garcia 2018 Nationals (A) 18 323 10.5% 510 9.2%
Ozzie Albies 2015 Braves (A) 18 439 10.0% 600 11.4%
Isaac Paredes 2017 Cubs (A) 18 384 8.3% 569 11.5%
Yasel Antuna 2018 Nationals (A) 18 362 10.6% 561 11.5%
Jeisson Rosario 2018 Padres (A) 18 521 8.5% 745 11.6%
Oswaldo Cabrera 2017 Yankees (A) 18 353 9.8% 556 11.7%
Jose Devers 2018 Marlins (A) 18 362 9.7% 531 12.3%
Mario Feliciano 2017 Brewers (A) 18 446 10.2% 573 12.4%
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 2017 Blue Jays (A) 18 318 9.2% 594 12.5%
Leody Taveras 2017 Rangers (A) 18 577 9.0% 865 12.7%
Jack Suwinski 2017 Padres (A) 18 532 11.2% 655 13.0%
Cristian Pache 2017 Braves (A) 18 514 12.7% 636 13.3%
Justin Lopez 2018 Padres (A) 18 270 14.4% 573 13.4%
Luis Almanzar 2018 Padres (A) 18 249 13.4% 537 13.5%
Omar Estevez 2016 Dodgers (A) 18 508 13.8% 508 13.8%
Tirso Ornelas 2018 Padres (A) 18 355 7.9% 593 14.5%
Wendell Rijo 2014 Red Sox (A) 18 473 12.5% 676 15.1%
Carson Kelly 2013 Cardinals (A) 18 168 10.6% 692 15.9%
Reinaldo Ilarraza 2017 Padres (A) 18 530 15.5% 656 16.8%
Jason Heyward 2008 Braves (A) 18 508 16.9% 508 16.9%
Hudson Potts 2017 Padres (A) 18 522 14.1% 789 17.4%
Jurickson Profar 2011 Rangers (A) 18 516 17.4% 804 17.6%
Wilmer Flores 2010 Mets (A) 18 307 19.1% 572 17.6%
Rafael Devers 2015 Red Sox (A) 18 508 14.4% 682 18.3%
Dylan Carlson 2017 Cardinals (A) 18 451 11.9% 652 18.4%
Mike Trout 2010 Angels (A) 18 368 16.2% 555 18.6%
Adrian Rondon 2017 Rays (A) 18 438 14.8% 832 19.2%
Carlos Tocci 2014 Phillies (A) 18 538 18.8% 645 19.3%

Whether you’re looking at swinging strike rate in A ball or swinging strike rate as a pro, Wander is leading the pack, and it’s not even close.

Clearly Franco doesn’t have any competition from these 18 year olds when it comes to swinging strike rate, so let’s expand the selection of players to those who were 20 years or younger when they collected the requisite A ball and professional PAs. Many of these players were two full years older than Wander at the same levels.

Here’s the top 30.

Swinging Strike Rates for Players 20 Years or Younger in A ball, 2003 to present

Name Season Team Age at A PA at A SwStr% Total Pro PAs Total SwStr%
Name Season Team Age at A PA at A SwStr% Total Pro PAs Total SwStr%
Wander Franco 2019 Rays (A) 18 212 4.2% 485 5.3%
Luis Arraez 2016 Twins (A) 19 514 5.5% 747 5.9%
Yonny Hernandez 2018 Rangers (A) 20 443 4.8% 661 6.3%
Tyler Freeman 2019 Indians (A) 20 222 4.3% 667 6.5%
Gabriel Maciel 2018 Diamondbacks (A) 19 313 7.0% 558 6.9%
Leonardo Rivas 2018 Angels (A) 20 547 8.2% 730 6.9%
Victor Robles 2016 Nationals (A) 19 285 7.9% 452 7.3%
Orlando Arcia 2013 Brewers (A) 18 486 7.5% 486 7.5%
Rafael Narea 2018 Cubs (A) 20 402 9.2% 643 7.8%
Luis Guillorme 2015 Mets (A) 20 523 6.2% 705 8.0%
Jose Zambrano 2014 Tigers (A) 20 230 10.8% 579 8.0%
Grenny Cumana 2016 Phillies (A) 20 381 7.2% 626 8.1%
Eduard Pinto 2015 Rangers (A) 20 397 6.9% 677 8.1%
Ryan Vilade 2018 Rockies (A) 19 533 8.2% 679 8.2%
Vidal Brujan 2018 Rays (A) 20 434 6.4% 959 8.3%
Ke'Bryan Hayes 2016 Pirates (A) 19 276 7.3% 503 8.6%
Lolo Sanchez 2018 Pirates (A) 19 441 7.6% 675 8.6%
Keibert Ruiz 2017 Dodgers (A) 18 251 8.9% 457 8.7%
Jose Gomez 2017 Rockies (A) 20 351 10.3% 567 8.8%
Tyrone Taylor 2013 Brewers (A) 19 549 8.8% 549 8.8%
Ali Sanchez 2017 Mets (A) 20 200 5.6% 558 8.9%
Donovan Solano 2007 Cardinals (A) 19 316 13.7% 483 8.9%
Luis Garcia 2018 Nationals (A) 18 323 10.5% 510 9.2%
Colton Welker 2017 Rockies (A) 19 279 9.3% 506 9.3%
Jahmai Jones 2017 Angels (A) 19 387 10.5% 613 9.3%
Grant Lavigne 2019 Rockies (A) 19 223 11.1% 481 9.3%
Diego Castillo 2017 Yankees (A) 19 510 6.9% 694 9.5%
Kevin Josephina 2017 Braves (A) 20 465 9.6% 465 9.6%
Jose Miranda 2018 Twins (A) 20 439 11.1% 686 9.7%
Miguel Aparicio 2018 Rangers (A) 19 315 9.8% 632 9.7%

Again, it’s Wander at the top of the list.

You may notice a player on this list is Vidal Brujan, another Rays prospect lauded for his bat-to-ball skills. He was two years older than Wander when he took on A ball, and his swinging strike rate was about 50% greater than Franco’s. Brujan has great hand-eye coordination, but Wander’s is almost unreal.

According to Baseball America’s hot sheet published July 3, Franco hadn’t swung and missed at a pitch in the past seven games, dating back to the third inning of the Hot Rods’ game on May 26th.

But wait, there’s more!

Adam Sanford

Not only is Wander incredibly young for A ball and incredibly unlikely to swing and miss, but he also hits for power.

Players who hit for power typically have to give up some contact ability in order to do it. If you swing harder, you hit the ball harder, but you also tend to swing and miss more often. Looking at his power, along with his youth and contact ability, demonstrates just how singular a player Franco is.

This plot shows the career isolated power (ISO) and swinging strike rate for all the 18 year olds in my sample. Younger 18-year old’s are light red. Older 18 year old’s are dark red. You can click on the full screen tab at the bottom right for a less scrunched view of the chart.

Eight of the 75 players in the sample have hit for as much or more power than Wander (.200 ISO or better) over 400 or more professional PAs. Other than Wander’s 4.2% whiff rate, the lowest swinging strike rate among that group is 13.2% (that player is Fernando Tatis, Jr.).

None of 75 players have a swinging strike rate even close to Wander’s, but among those with a swinging strike rate under 10%, the highest ISO is .164 (that player is Vlad Guerrero, Jr.).

You probably don’t need a bunch of tables and charts to know that Franco is good. That much is apparent when you watch him play or glance at his traditional stats.

Still, a deeper dive into the numbers shows that Franco is nearly peerless statistically among precocious minor-leaguers during the past 16 years. He is freakishly talented.

*Data used was current through June 4th.