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Setting expectations for Wander Franco’s debut

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Contact, but maybe not power.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays-Workouts Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Baseball’s multi-year best prospect has been promoted, and the time for Wander Franco in Tampa Bay has finally come. How well can we expect him to perform in his debut?

Looking at his very limited stats in the minors, it’s clear that the switch hitting infielder is capable from both sides of the plate.

2021 - Triple-A
vs RHP: 114 PA, .330/.386/.612
vs LHP: 60 PA, .304/.350/.571

2019 - High-A
vs RHP: 391 PA, .336/.404/.517
vs LHP: 104 PA, .293/.375/.380

Overall, Franco has walked 10.1% of the time while only striking out an absurd 7.9% of the time while being far and away the youngest player in his league. This combination of contact and power that Franco has shown in the minors has led to him posting a .332/.398/.536 line and 155 wRC+ in 945 career plate appearances.

It’s not easy finding a player with a similar skillset, but one that sticks out is his neighbor from Bani, Dominican Republic Jose Ramirez of the Cleveland Indians. Ramirez is one of the best players in the majors, and has known Franco since he was age-7. Rarely do player comparisons align with personal history so well.

In the minor leagues Ramirez did not perform at the same level Franco has, hitting .306/.355/.411 and putting up a 113 wRC+ in 1,344 plate appearances. Ramirez barely cleared a .100 ISO but he posted a very impressive 7.1% walk rate and 8.5% strikeout rate.

Ramirez was promoted to the majors for good at 21 years old, and it took until 2017 and the age of 24 to start hitting for meaningful power. In his first 1,253 major league plate appearances he posted a .128 ISO while only hitting 19 homers or just over 9 homers per 600 plate appearances.

By comparison, against more advanced arms in Durham (AAA) Franco hit .315/.367/.586 and put up a 148 wRC+. His walk rate fell to 6.8% and his strikeout rate rose to 11.9%. These are still fantastic numbers, but pitchers were more willing to attack him with Wander willing to put balls in play that he can make contact with.

For Franco, one of the only remaining questions is how much power he’ll show against major league arms, but he’s ready to answer that question as he has nothing left to prove against minor league pitching.

But in that question is another similarity that Franco shares with Ramirez. A switch hitting shortstop slotted into third base upon his promotion to the majors, Ramirez took the longest time developing power from the left side of the plate, and it seems likely that we can expect the same for Tampa Bay’s top prospect.

Franco shouldn’t be to be expected to hit like peak Ramirez regardless, he has put up a .282/.366/.548 line and 138 wRC+ over 2,417 plate appearances since 2017. In that span his 24.0 fWAR ranks third behind only Mike Trout and Mookie Betts among position players. But the power may take the longest to materialize either way.

Projections view the short term production as more good than great for Franco, with Steamer projecting a .268/.328/.402 line and 106 wRC+, THE BAT projecting a .279/.336/.438 line and 116 wRC+, and ZiPS projecting a .263/.316/.421 line in 2021.

Expectations are high, as they should be, but it also can take a player time to adjust to major league pitching. It’s going to take Franco time to reach power production levels of note, but that should not dampen your enthusiasm for baseball’s next great player.