The top of the lineup was menacing for the Stone Crabs on Sunday afternoon, and Wander Franco was in the center of it all.
MLB.com's top overall prospect notched his first four-hit game of the season and scored three times as Class A Advanced Charlotte romped past Tampa, 9-0, at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Gameday box score
"You can put him anywhere, 1, 2 or 3 [in the lineup] and he's going to put together a quality at-bat and have a positive reaction from the top," Stone Crabs manager Jeff Smith said. "He has this ability to slow pitches down, he knows the strike zone so well -- he's just so advanced for his age. So that is going to have an effect on the rest of the lineup, especially in a situation where you've got a guy in scoring position and he comes up with his ability to spray the ball all over the field."
After going hitless in his previous three games, Franco snapped out of the funk Saturday with a double, single, RBI and a run scored. It was his 13th multi-hit effort since a promotion from Class A Bowling Green on June 25.
Sunday marked the third time in the 18-year-old's career that he collected at least four hits. He went 4-for-5 with a dinger on June 28, 2018 for Rookie Advanced Princeton, then outdid himself last July 14 when he hit for the cycle, going 5-for-6 with a pair of homers and a career-best six RBIs.
"He's just a guy that's going to put together consistent at-bats," Smith said. "Even those games where he doesn't get a hit, he's taking consistent at-bats and hitting some balls hard, they just don't find holes. But he's always a pretty tough out, he knows how to work the count, he can go line-to-line and when he sees a lot of pitches he's going to do damage on those pitches."
After Jake Palomaki led off the game with a single, Franco punched a 1-0 offering from Yankees No. 5 prospect Clarke Schmidt through the left side of the infield for his first hit. Kaleo Johnson promptly moved the 18-year-old to third with an RBI double, and the 60-grade speedster scampered home on a wild pitch.
The top Rays prospect led off the third and, after looking at a couple of strikes from Schmidt, turned on the next pitch and grounded it into right field. His plus-plus speed was back on display four pitches later when Johnson lined a single to left and Franco scored from first.
Right-hander Hobie Harris replaced Schmidt to start the fourth, and Franco opened the inning with another knock to right. After moving into scoring position on a single by Johnson, Franco came home on a base hit by Zach Rutherford.
The 5-foot-10, 189-pound shortstop led off the eighth against Anderson Severino and went right back up the middle with the first offering from the lefty.
"There's really not much we've had to work on or change since he got here," Smith said. "Him and our hitting coach [Joe Szekely] do the same routine every single day, and that's a big thing. To be able to find a routine and stick with it no matter what happens, that's a big part of success. He knows what he wants to do and whether he's coming off of a four-hit night or no hits, he's the same. He really has this unique ability to square the ball down on opposing pitchers."
2019 MiLB include
Franco has a .333/.399/.482 slash line with an .881 OPS through 39 Florida State League games. He has 14 extra-base hits, 33 runs scored and 20 RBIs since joining Charlotte on June 25. He was promoted from Class A Bowling Green, where he batted .318/.390/.506 with an .896 OPS, 27 extra-base hits, 42 runs scored and 29 RBIs in 62 games.
The first three hitters in the Stone Crabs lineup accounted for nine of their 17 hits and scored six runs. Palomaki finished with a pair of knocks, while Johnson went 3-for-5 with a double, an RBI and a run scored.
Right-hander Tobias Myers (6-1) worked around six hits and walk while fanning three over five frames and Simon Rosenblum-Larson completed Charlotte's 16th shutout and registered his seventh save after yielding three walks and punching out four over the final four innings.