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Franco, Ryan among Rays 2019 minor league honorees

Wander Franco and Joe Ryan led one of the top organizations in baseball this season.

Adam Sanford

Monday, the Rays announced their minor league awards, naming shortstop Wander Franco as the Player of the Year and righty Joe Ryan as the Pitcher of the Year. The team also honored an MVP for each affiliate, the best baserunner in the organization, the best reliever, the best defensive player, and recognized one player for exemplary community involvement.

Franco entered the season as one of the most-hyped prospects in team history, and he met expectations. He finished the season as the consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball after batting .327/.398/.487 for Class-A Bowling Green and Class A-Advanced Charlotte. He was named a postseason All-Star for both the Midwest League and Florida State League, and he participated in the Futures Game.

Ryan — a seventh-round pick last year — was the surprise player in the organization this season. Thanks to his fastball, he struck out 183 batters, which ranked second in minor league baseball. His 1.96 ERA for Bowling Green, Charlotte, and Double-A Montgomery ranked fifth in the minors among pitchers with more than 100 innings.

Pitcher Simon Rosenblum-Larson was honored as the Erik Walker Community Champion, which “recognizes a Rays minor leaguer who exemplifies teamwork, sportsmanship and community involvement,” according to a release. He was Charlotte’s nominee for the honor, and the team will make a $2,500 donation to Shore Community Services, which aims to improve the quality of life for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Walker was a Devil Rays minor league who passed away following his first season of professional baseball in 2006.

For the second straight year, Vidal Brujan was named the organization’s best baserunner. His 48 steals led the organization and were fifth in the minors. In its best tools survey, Baseball America found that he was the best baserunner, fastest baserunner, and most exciting player in the FSL ($).

Tyler Zombro was selected as the organization’s best reliever. The undrafted righty had a 2.29 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 63 innings for Montgomery and Triple-A Durham. His 11 saves were fourth among Rays minor leaguers.

Also being honored for a second straight year was Taylor Walls as the organization’s best defensive player. After only playing shortstop in 2018, he saw time at second base and third base for Charlotte and Montgomery in addition to his duties at shortstop.

The affiliate MVPs were as follows:

Triple-A Durham: Infielder/right-handed pitcher Jake Cronenworth
Double-A Montgomery: Left-handed pitcher Josh Fleming
Class A-Advanced Charlotte: Right-handed pitcher Tommy Romero
Class-A Bowling Green: Right-handed pitcher Caleb Sampen
Short-season Hudson Valley: Shortstop Greg Jones
Rookie-level Princeton: Outfielder Diego Infante
Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Rays: Infielder Abiezel Ramirez
Rookie-level Dominican Summer League Rays 1: Infielder Alfredo Balbuena
Rookie-level Dominican Summer League Rays 2: Infielder Johan Lopez

After a down 2018 season, Cronenworth rebounded and improved his stock in 2019. He led the International League in average (.334) and on-base percentage (.429), and he returned to the mound for the first time in college, becoming the third two-way player in the organization. He didn’t allow an earned run in 7 13 innings.

Fleming continued to pitch effectively. Between Montgomery and Durham, he had a 3.57 ERA and set career highs in strikeouts (108) and innings (148 23).

With Charlotte, Romero had a 1.89 ERA. He led the league in that category and WHIP (1.02) and was named a postseason FSL All-Star.

Sampen was a postseason All-Star in the Midwest League. He was second in the league in ERA (2.68) and WHIP (1.02). The Rays acquired him from the Dodgers for Jaime Schultz.

Jones — the team’s first draft pick in June — had one of the strongest starts to a pro career among 2019 picks. Among New York-Penn League hitters, he ranked third in average (.335), second in on-base percentage (.413), seventh in slugging percentage (.461), and tied for sixth in steals (19).

In the Appalachian League, Diego Infante was a postseason All-Star as one of the league’s top sluggers. He was tied for third in the league with 12 home runs, his .504 slugging percentage was sixth, and his .848 OPS was ninth.

For the second straight season, Ramirez was named an affiliate MVP after being selected for one of the DSL clubs last year. In his stateside debut, he was among the GCL Rays leaders in most offensive categories and hit two of their seven home runs.

Balbuena played for both Rays DSL affiliates but spent a slight majority of his season with the DSL Rays 1 club.

Lopez only played for the DSL Rays 2 and was one of the top hitters in the league. He led the league with seven triples and 24 steals and batted .357 with a .993 OPS.

The minor league honorees will be recognized prior to Monday’s Rays game against the Red Sox.