Rays' Franco cycles way to weekly honor

Switch-hitting shortstop producing beyond years for Princeton

Wander Franco, 17, ranks third in the Appalachian League with a .386 average over 24 games. (Cliff Welch/MiLB.com)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | July 16, 2018 2:30 PM

There are many reasons why Wander Franco shouldn't be dominating the Appalachian League. He's only 17 and was signed last July. He hadn't played in a stateside league before June. He skipped over the Gulf Coast League. He'd need time to adjust, both on and off the field.

But there's a big reason why Franco is dominating the Appalachian League right out of the gate -- he's just that good with a bat in his hands.

The Rays' No. 7 prospect has been named Appalachian League Offensive Player of the Week for July 9-15 after going 14-for-30 (.467) with three homers, one triple, two doubles and 11 RBIs over seven games for Rookie-level Princeton. Not surprisingly, it is the first career Player of the Week award for the switch-hitting shortstop.

View the Pitcher of the Week winners »

Franco made headlines Friday when he hit for the cycle and drove in six runs in a 13-1 win over Pulaski. His five hits -- he belted a second homer in addition to his cycle -- set a career high, as did his four extra-base hits, six RBIs and 14 total bases.

As much as Franco may have been able to coast on that one performance to capture Player of the Week honors, it was actually part of a string of strong offensive showings. Franco is riding a 20-game hitting streak -- the longest in the Appy League this season by six games -- and hitting .424 over that span. Last week alone, he had multiple hits in four of his seven games with help from a tremendous contact rate. He struck out only twice in his 31 plate appearances last week.

"I don't think he has a doubt on how he wants to approach each at-bat," Princeton manager Danny Sheaffer told MiLB.com's Andrew Battifarano after Franco's cycle. "He takes what the pitcher gives him, and sometimes he gets the ball out over the plate and goes the other way with it. Sometimes he drives the ball to the strong side -- whether it's right-handed or left-handed. ... He was a highly touted international player, and he's not fazed by that. He goes about his business like he's supposed to. He has fun playing the game, which probably stands out more than anything else. That's where you can see his age, he's really enthusiastic."

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The Rays signed Franco for $3.825 million out of the Dominican Republic last July. MLB.com ranked him as the third-best international prospect behind only Shohei Ohtani and Julio Pablo Martinez for the 2017-18 signing period on the strength of his solid hitting approach, plus speed and potential to stick at shortstop. He showed more than that during his time at extended spring training, leading Tampa Bay to decide the teenager was ready for a push.

Franco is one of just three 17-year-olds in the Appy League this summer -- Blue Jays right-hander Eric Pardinho and Yankees outfielder Everson Pereira are the other two. While his fellow AL East prospects are off to solid starts, Franco has been the most successful of the three so far. Entering Monday, Franco ranks among the top five in the Appy League in average (.386), slugging percentage (.683), OPS (1.109), home runs (six), total bases (69) and wRC+ (180). 

In a Tampa Bay system with five top-100 prospects already, Franco could join that group quickly at the rate he's going. The Rays aren't worried about him handling himself stateside anymore, obviously. The next question surrounds where he can dominate next.

"He's 17 years old by age, that's it," Sheaffer told MiLB.com last week. "Maturity-wise, he's a professional hitter. And I don't see anybody overmatching him at this level. He'll go through his bumps -- up and down -- but I think the ups are going to be a lot more than the downs."

Here are the rest of the Minor League Offensive Players of the Week for July 9-15:

League Player Team MLB Stats
International Eric Haase Columbus CLE .471/.474/1.118, 4 G, 8-for-17, 2 2B, 3 HR, 11 RBI, 5 R, 1 BB, 5 K
Pacific Coast Christian Walker Reno ARI .333/.375/.933, 4 G, 5-for-15, 0 2B, 3 HR, 8 RBI, 4 R, 1 BB, 5 K
Eastern Adam Haseley Reading PHI .385/.500/.923, 4 G, 5-for-13, 1 2B, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 5 R, 2 BB, 2 K
Southern Isan Diaz Jacksonville MIA .455/.520/1.091, 6 G, 10-for-22, 2 2B, 4 HR, 12 RBI, 7 R, 3 BB, 5 K
Texas Lorenzo Quintana Corpus Christi HOU .538/.647/1.769, 4 G, 7-for-13, 2 2B, 1 3B, 4 HR, 10 RBI, 9 R, 2 BB, 1 K, 2 SB)
California Jalen Miller San Jose SF .344/.382/.719, 7 G, 11-for-32, 3 2B, 3 HR, 8 RBI, 7 R, 1 BB, 10 K)
Carolina Bobby Dalbec Salem BOS .476/.577/1.048, 6 G, 10-for-21, 0 2B, 4 HR, 8 RBI, 5 R, 5 BB, 7 K, 1 SB
Florida State Luis Carpio St. Lucie NYM .481/.481/.667, 7 G, 13-for-27, 2 2B, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 3 R, 0 BB, 4 K, 1 SB
Midwest Jose Miranda Cedar Rapids MIN .440/.481/.760, 6 G, 11-for-25, 2 2B, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 4 R, 2 BB, 1 K
South Atlantic Miguel Aparicio Hickory TEX .385/.407/.769, 6 G, 10-for-26, 2 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 7 R, 0 BB, 7 K, 0 SB
New York-Penn Pablo O'Connor Auburn WAS .409/.409/.727, 5 G, 9-for-22, 4 2B, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 3 R, 0 BB, 2 K, 0 SB
Northwest Joey Bart Salem-Keizer SF .304/.360/.870, 6 G, 7-for-23, 1 2B, 4 HR, 9 RBI, 4 R, 0 BB, 6 K, 0 SB
Appalachian Wander Franco Princeton TB .467/.484/.900, 7 G, 14-for-30, 2 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 11 RBI, 6 R, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 CS
Pioneer Corey Zangari Great Falls CWS .421/.480/1.368, 6 G, 8-for-19, 1 2B, 1 3B, 5 HR, 13 RBI, 6 R, 3 BB, 4 K

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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