Hot Rods' Franco stays hot with two jacks

Top Rays prospect runs hit streak to 11 games with three knocks

Wander Franco has six extra-base hits in his last nine at-bats, with three homers in the past two games. (Bowling Green Hot Rods)

By Duane Cross / | April 26, 2019 1:45 AM

The adage says it takes two to tango. Wander Franco and Kaleo Johnson are dancing their way through the Midwest League for Class A Bowling Green.

Franco, the Rays' top-ranked prospect, homered twice in a 3-for-4 showing, scoring three times and collecting three RBIs as the Hot Rods outlasted the Lansing Lugnuts, 6-5, on Thursday night at Bowling Green Ballpark.

Video: Franco's second HR of game for Hot Rods

The 18-year-old shortstop, who went yard for the first time this season Wednesday, extended his hitting streak to 11 games and raised his slash line to .333/.420/.621 in his first 18 games of full-season ball. Since April 13, he's 17-for-41 (.415) with four multi-hit games. Thursday marked Franco's second professional two-homer game. His first was last July 14, when he hit for the cycle, going 5-for-6 with a career-high six RBIs for Rookie Advanced Princeton.

"The last few games, it's been really nice to see these guys take advantage of some good pitches," Bowling Green hitting coach Jeremy Owens said. "Since the beginning of the season, they have settled down and are finding better pitches to hit."

Franco,'s No. 12 overall prospect, and Johnson have gone a combined 13-for-17, including five home runs and four doubles, with 11 RBIs and 10 runs scored in the past three games.

Gameday box score

Owens said he cannot recall a duo having as much success in a three-game stretch. "Certainly not in the Midwest League, with the type pitching we have, where they really command the fastball. You have to be aggressive."

Last year, the Hot Rods, led by top-10 Rays farmhands Ronaldo Hernandez (No. 6) and Vidal Brujan (No. 7), were the epitome of aggressive at the plate. Bowling Green led the Midwest League in batting average (.274), hits (1,283), RBIs (636) and OPS (.747). The team was second in doubles (261) and OBP (.340).

"Overall, as an organization, we are very fortunate," Owens said. "We have good scouting and good hitters in the system. There is confidence with us."

Franco kick-started Bowling Green's three-run third inning with a one-out single off Lansing right-hander Fitz Stadler, plating Osmy Gregorio. He and Beau Brundage scored on Johnson's two-out line single to center. Two innings later, the switch-hitting native of the Dominican Republic went the opposite way off Stadler, knocking a 1-1 pitch over the left-field wall to give the Hot Rods a 4-1 lead.

With one out in the seventh, Franco got all of another one. Facing right-hander Cobi Johnson, he drove an 0-1 offering out of the park in center.

Johnson went 3-for-4 with a double, two RBIs and a run scored. It was his second consecutive three-hit game and third this season as the Alameda, California, native raised his average to .297. The 22-year-old corner infielder greeted Lansing's Johnson with a two-bagger to left to lead off the sixth. He scored on a bases-loaded walk by Jake Palomaki.

2019 MiLB include

"With two players [Franco and Johnson], one may develop faster," Owens noted. "Franco is making adjustments; not swinging at balls out of the zone. Johnson, he's got some pop. Pitchers know this. Wander is a good hitter. It's about growth and development. They are taking advantage of pitches, of opportunities."

Only 21 games into the season, Owens is reluctant to make comparisons between this year's Hot Rods and 2018's team, but he does see potential for the squad to be as potent.

"It's hard to compare because I think we had a more mature team, guys who understood baseball," the coach said. "For me, we were the best team because we caught the ball. We have to find consistency on defense. Our scouting and player development will make adjustments and we'll see more success. We're in a good spot to not stay content."

Bowling Green starter Caleb Sampen (2-1) retired the first eight batters. He worked a career-best six innings and struck out nine, surpassing his previous single-game high of six punchouts, most recently April 7. The right-hander gave up one run on four hits and two walks.

Chris Muller picked up his second save, allowing two runs on three hits while striking out four in two frames.

Duane Cross is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter @DuaneCrossMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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