Tuesday, July 23, 2024
AL EastAmerican LeagueAnalysisMLBTampa Bay Rays

How Good Is Wander Franco?

Photo: Twitter, @BGHotRods

The Rays have the best prospect in the minor leagues, according to every major news outlet that covers the MiLB. It’s one thing to be the best, but it’s another to be considered an elite professional before even being 20. So, just how good is Wander Franco?

At just 18 years old, Franco already has an impressive physique that is relatively uncommon for players with such little time under their belt. For reference, he is roughly the same height as Vidal Brujan and Xavier Edwards, the Rays’ next best middle infield prospects, and he is about 35 pounds heavier than Brujan and 15 heavier than Edwards; for high caliber professional athletes, it’s safe to assume that the weight difference is mainly due to more muscle. Backed up by 60 grades on the 20-80 scale for his power, arm, and speed according to MLB.com, Franco is a special athlete whose physical abilities alone have what it takes to provide him with great potential.

The most defining characteristic of Wander is his plate discipline. Over his last two years in the lower minors, he has more walks than strikeouts at every level. In 2019, he had just a 4.3 swinging strike rate, highlighted by a period where he saw 105 pitches without swinging and missing. For comparison, only two players in MLB had a lower SwStr%: David Fletcher (3.2) and Michael Brantley (4.0). One reason we see sign-stealing around the league is that knowing when to take a pitch can be just as valuable as being able to jump all over it, and Franco has the rare ability to achieve that advantage organically.

I asked Shawn Murnin, broadcaster for the Rays’ low A affiliate Bowling Green Hot Rods, what he saw in Wander during his 62 game tenure there. “Outside of his freaky hand-eye coordination he’s got, his confidence plays a really interesting part,” Murnin explained. “Because he’s so confident that he’s going to be successful, there’s never a moment I saw him in [at] Bowling Green that was too big for him.” This draws similarities to another young stud, Juan Soto, who hit a home run off Gerrit Cole in Game Two of the World Series after hitting coach Kevin Long predicted he would. Like Soto, Franco carries with him a strong presence completely devoid of doubt. Furthermore, Murnin adds, “I think he’s exhibited the talent to play in MLB all along”. It’s certainly possible he plays games at the Trop this year, but the Rays have been somewhat conservative with him, being careful not to rush his development.

Wander had an average exit velocity of 90 mph last year, a good number, especially impressive for someone who is still developing his strength and athleticism. He only hit nine home runs in Bowling Green and Port Charlotte combined, but that’s in large part to a ground ball rate near 50%. As he refines both swings and works to hit the ball in the air a little more, the power numbers should increase. As seen in his wOBA, which has never been below .396 at any level, his overall power is not to be overlooked. However, it would be a step in the right direction to limit the ground balls and in turn show some more home run power. For reference, wOBA is on a similar scale as OBP, so .400 is well above average.

In the field, Wander plays a more than capable shortstop. He made only 13 errors in 832.2 innings last year, which is a little less than one error a week. Along with his glove, his arm is consistently rated above average or at least average by prospect grading organizations. However, with Willy Adames burying any concerns about his ability at the position, the Rays should be testing Franco’s versatility in 2020 to find a position he can comfortably play when he gets to the big leagues this year or next.

Franco has shown the potential to be a rare five tool talent at a premier defensive position. There’s not much more anyone in the Rays organization could ask for in terms of his ceiling. He has a consensus ETA of 2021, so Franco will likely take 2020 to develop in the minors before making his mark on the turf of Tropicana Field.

Nicholas Lobraico

High school student, former baseball player. Pitching enthusiast. Rays man in a Yankees land. Follow me on Twitter @LobraicoNick