Each week, MiLB.com profiles an elite prospect by chronicling the steps he's taken to reach the brink of realizing his Major League dream. Here's a look at Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Wander Franco. He's 19. He hasn't met much of a challenge yet in professional baseball. He's moved rapidly through
Each week, MiLB.com profiles an elite prospect by chronicling the steps he's taken to reach the brink of realizing his Major League dream. Here's a look at Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Wander Franco.
He's 19. He hasn't met much of a challenge yet in professional baseball. He's moved rapidly through the Rays system, paced by all-around production from both sides of the plate and just as impressive abilities in the infield. And whenever play resumes, Wander Franco -- MLB.com's top overall prospect -- likely will suit up in Double-A for the first time, just two promotions away from Tropicana Field, despite having only 175 Minor League games under his belt.
2018 (Rookie Advanced Princeton)
Franco signed out of the Dominican Republic for $3.85 million in July 2017 and made his professional debut the following summer. As a 17-year-old in the Appalachian League, a trend that's defined his career thus far began to emerge: he's far younger -- and better -- than most of his competition.
Franco moved his batting average above .300 for the first time in his eighth game of the season when he fell a double shy of the cycle in a four-hit, three-RBI effort that featured his first career home run. It never fell below .326 at any point during the rest of the 61-game campaign. The shortstop went hitless in back-to-back contests only twice. His season peaked with a five-hit cycle against Pulaski on July 14 that included a career-high six RBIs.
If there's one thing that has yet to fully develop in Franco, it's power. But he hit 11 homers for Princeton, 10 of which came against right-handed pitchers. His left-right splits were otherwise close, posting a .348/.411/.439 slash line against southpaws and a .352/.420/.642 mark vs. righties.
Together, those numbers formed an MVP-worthy output, with Franco taking home the Appalachian League's top individual honor for his .351/.418/.587 season. He drove in 57 runs and drew 27 walks while striking out just 19 times.
2019 (Class A Bowling Green, Class A Advanced Charlotte)
A relatively slow start for Franco in the Midwest League -- three multi-hit efforts over the first 15 games -- gave way to more of what Tampa Bay had come to expect the prized prospect's first full season. Franco broke out with two three-hit games in a three-day span toward the end of April, then finished the month with a .311 average and .961 OPS. Fourteen hits in his last seven games in May brought his numbers for that month to .333 and .870. He also stole seven bases in May, three more than any other month in his two pro seasons.
After three more weeks with the Hot Rods -- bringing his 62-game totals to .318/.390/.506 with six homers, five triples, 16 doubles and 29 RBIs -- Franco earned a late-June promotion to the Florida State League, where he spent the remainder of his sophomore campaign.
The higher level of competition produced even better numbers for the 18-year-old, who racked up multiple hits in each of his first four games with the Stone Crabs. He appeared in the All-Star Futures Game, going 1-for-2 out of the leadoff spot for the American League. Franco ended the FSL campaign hitting .339/.398/.487 with three homers, two triples, 11 doubles and 24 RBIs in 52 games. The average player on the circuit was more than four years older than him.
Franco's plate discipline won out at both levels in 2019 as he drew 56 walks and struck out 35 times. The accolades followed; both the Midwest and Florida State leagues named him an end-of-season All-Star, while the former and the Rays organization gave him the title of Prospect of the Year
. In MiLB.com's farm system rankings heading into 2020, Franco headlined the Rays group that claimed the top spot
Although all the recognition didn't lead to an invitation to Tampa Bay's big league camp this spring, Franco did appear in three Grapefruit League games. He went 2-for-7 and reportedly was scheduled
to join the Domincan Republic for Olympic qualifiers at the end of March before the COVID-19 pandemic put a pause on all levels of the game.
Joe Bloss is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @jtbloss.