Manny Castillo has worked in baseball for 46 years. He signed as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic. He played three big league seasons in the early '80s. He's coached in the Rays organization since its inception in 1998, three years before Wander Franco was born. So Castillo, now the hitting coach for Class A Bowling Green, has seen a lot of ballplayers.
"He's different, for sure," the 62-year-old said of Franco, 18.
The top Rays prospect knocked three hits and added a sacrifice fly on Saturday night, leading Class A Bowling Green to a 10-4 triumph over Dayton at Bowling Green Ballpark. It was Franco's third-straight multi-hit effort and his eighth in 11 games. He boosted his average to .304 while knocking in one run and scoring another.
Video: Hot Rods' Franco tallies third hit
Franco placed a 2-0 pitch from Jhon De Jesus into left field in the opening inning and came around to score the game's first run on Chris Betts' eighth homer. MLB.com's No. 5 overall prospect singled again in the second, and plated Tony Pena with a sacrifice fly to center in the fourth. Another base hit in the sixth capped his third three-hit game of the season and first this month.
"He has a plan when he goes up to the plate," Castillo said. "He spits on tough pitches. He's nice and relaxed in the box. See the ball, and then just an easy barrel to the ball. Real simple tonight. And it's been like that throughout the year."
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It's been like that since Franco arrived in the United States last summer. He signed with the Rays out of the Dominican Republic for $3,825,000 in July 2017 and made his pro debut in the Appalachian League. The shortstop swiftly showed he can thrive against older competition by earning MVP honors as a 17-year-old, hitting .351/.418/.587 with 11 homers in 61 games. He led the circuit with 85 hits and 57 RBIs.
That production has continued in the Midwest League. Franco's average has not dipped below .274 since climbing to .300 for the first time on April 23. He's struck out only three times in his last 12 games, and his 8.8% strikeout rate entering the weekend was bested by only 10 other qualified hitters in all of the Minor Leagues.
So, what's there to improve when Franco is putting up above-average numbers at an age years younger than the average Midwest League player? Castillo wants to see the youngster stay true to his routine as he experiences a full season for the first time.
"We still have the rest of May, June, July, August to go on and a day or two days in September," Castillo said. "He has to play consistent and keep putting the pro at-bats together. That's it."
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Franco, Castillo said, has displayed traits that should bode well as the season drags on -- confidence and maturity chief among them.
"He's a really good kid," the coach said. "He's a good teammate. He listens, loves to work and brings good energy every day. That's all you can ask for in this game. There are very few things in this game that you can control, and your energy effort and how you prepare and come ready to play is one of them. So, to have that right now at a young age, 18 years old, is special."
Three other Hot Rods registered multi-hit games. Ford Proctor drove in two runs, Grant Witherspoon hit his fourth homer of the year and Osmy Gregorio collected three hits for the third time this week.
Bowling Green starter Easton McGee (4-0) allowed four runs -- two earned -- on six hits in five innings for the win. He walked one and struck out three. Chris Muller and Cristofer Ogando combined on four scoreless frames, yielding two hits apiece.
De Jesus (1-4) surrendered seven runs on 10 hits and a walk with one strikeout in four innings.