July 2, 2017: Franco signed with the Rays, out of the Dominican Republic, via scout Danny Santana.
If the name "Wander Franco" sounds familiar, perhaps it is because he is the son of Wander Franco and brother of two more Wander Francos. His two older brothers played in the Giants’ system.
He's also the nephew of long-time Angels shortstop Erick Aybar and former Rays third baseman Willy Aybar.
But Franco’s biggest influence—his idol—was his neighbor.
“Jose Ramirez,” Franco said through a translator, breaking into a wide smile as he mentioned the Indians’ star third baseman’s name. “That’s my friend from back home and I watch him a lot, to try to obviously understand what hitters are trying to do.
“When I was little, we were neighbors, so I got to meet him and watch him come up and do all his good things. That’s my idol.”
Like Ramirez, Franco has dyed the top layer of his hair blonde. Like Ramirez, Franco is a switch-hitter who plays the left side of the infield. And like Ramirez, Franco is raking.
They’re now both professionals, and that relationship hasn’t changed. Franco said he texts Ramirez every day. Ramirez, for his part, occasionally sends a friend to watch Franco play and report back to him.
“I keep track of what he’s doing,” Franco said. “Obviously, I’m following that same path and when I talk to him, Jose always lets me know, ‘If you ever have any issues, you got me here.’” (Kyle Glaser - Baseball America - 10/05/2018)
2018 Season: Franco had one of the most stirring pro debuts in recent memory, making the Rookie-level Appalachian League look easy with a .351/.418/.587 line. And 11 homers and 57 RBIs in 61 games.
In 2019, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Franco as the #1 prospect in the Rays' organization. And #1 again in 2020. And for the third straight year at #1 in 2021.
July 2019: Franco represented the Rays at the Futures All-Star Game.
Sept. 19, 2019: Franco was named Tampa Bay’s Minor League Hitter of the Year by MLB Pipeline. After hitting .351 with 11 home runs in his first half-season of professional baseball, Franco, who had just turned 18 in March, continued to produce huge numbers at the plate in his first full season in the Rays’ system.
Franco began the season with Class A Bowling Green, and he immediately began to make an impact. In 62 games, he hit six home runs with an .896 OPS. Those early results earned Franco a callup to Class A Advanced Charlotte, which didn’t seem to phase the young Dominican infielder.
In 52 games with the Stone Crabs, Franco hit .339 with three home runs in the Florida State League, which is known to be pitcher-friendly. Most impressively for Franco is the fact that he struck out just 35 times and drew 56 walks in 495 plate appearances this season between the two levels.
“He can really hit,” said former Rays director of Minor League operations Mitch Lukevics. “There are not many players that I’ve come across in my career that hit like Wander Franco, especially at a young age. He has a really good bat-to-ball ratio. He just has the ability to hit a baseball. It’s special.”
With a stellar first full season in the Minors, Franco has put himself in the conversation for a possible promotion to the big leagues next season. (Juan Toribio - MLB.com)
2019 Season: Franco was named the Minor League Player of the Year in the Rays’ organization after a stellar first full season.
Franco has always had a knack for being his team’s vocal leader. It’s partly because of his talent, but it’s also because of his high-energy personality. He is exceptionally competitive in whatever he does, and he’s comfortable in the spotlight that has followed him ever since he signed as the No. 1 prospect in the 2017 international amateur class.
Nov 25, 2019: Comparing Franco to Lindor: If you compare them when Lindor was coming off his age-18 season like Franco is now, Franco clearly is the better prospect. Lindor hit .257/.352/.355 with six homers and 27 steals in low Class A, while Franco batted .327/.398/.487 with nine homers and 18 steals between low Class A and high Class A. Franco is regarded as a slightly better hitter with a lot more power and a step more speed at the same stage of their careers, though Lindor was an obviously superior defender and there's some thought that Franco could outgrow shortstop.
However, not all prospects develop in identical fashion. Lindor totaled 21 homers in 416 Minor League games on his way to Cleveland, never hitting more than six in a single year. He has slammed 33, 38 and 32 in the last three seasons, exhibiting power that neither the Indians nor anyone else imagined he would develop. If Franco exceeds his power projection as much as Lindor did, he'll be hitting 45-50 homers on an annual basis for the Rays.
While Franco showed more upside at the same age and currently ranks as baseball's best prospect, Lindor is a perennial All-Star and 30-homer guy who has won multiple Gold Gloves at shortstop. I can't say Franco will be better than that, but I'll set the bar very high and say the guy I'll keep calling Vladimir Guerrero III will be as good as Lindor (albeit creating his value with more offense and less defense). (J Callis - MLB.com - Nov 25, 2019)
March 2020: Franco, MLB's No. 1 overall prospect, played for the Dominican Republic in the Olympic qualifier.
Nov 11, 2020: Over the past year, Wander Franco made it clear that his goal was to make his debut at some point during the 2020 season. But with the coronavirus pandemic cancelling the Minor League season, Franco was unable to do so. Instead, he settled for spending the 2020 campaign at the Rays’ alternate training site and being part of Tampa Bay’s 40-man player pool throughout the postseason run.
Franco said he thought he would eventually get a chance to help the Rays in the postseason, but the 19-year-old phenom mentioned that the experience of being around the Major League team during the World Series run really benefited him.
“You get to watch those players and how they communicate, how they work and how they have so much fun when they play,” Franco said in Spanish. “It was honestly a great experience for me.”
Franco continues to set the bar high for himself, setting a goal to make his Major League debut during the 2021 season as a 20-year-old. It remains unclear which level of the Minors Franco will start in next season, but the Rays won’t rush him.
“The potential is undeniable for all the reasons that have been covered by those that have seen him,” said Rays general manager Erik Neander. “He has the abilities to have an impactful Major League career for a long time, that’s unquestionable. There’s no way around that.
“But you also want to make sure he’s fully set up for success in all aspects that go into that. He’s 19 going on 20, you want to make sure you do everything possible to help him mature physically, emotionally, mentally to be in the best position to deal with all the expectations that are going to be with him because of his current prospect status.”
Neander also points out that the Rays have “a few guys” that can play shortstop, which is Franco’s natural position. However, if there’s a chance for Tampa Bay to get Franco’s bat in the lineup at some point next season, the club will be open to moving the prospect to another position, primarily third base, in order to accomplish that.
“He certainly has the abilities to play other positions if that’s the way he breaks through and gets his first shot,” Neander said. “But those are all things for us to consider during spring and beyond at this point.”
But before those decisions have to be made, the Rays granted Franco permission to play with Leones del Escogido in the Dominican Winter League in order to get him game action. Baseball’s top prospect will play at least 15 games with Escogido, all at shortstop. Tampa Bay infielder Nate Lowe and prospect Jim Haley will also play for Escogido, though they will be allowed to play the entire season.
“They told me to go do what I know how to do and stay disciplined and to just come help the team,” Franco said, when asked what the Rays’ message was. “I need to give it my all, because you learn a lot in this league that you don’t in the United States.” (J Toribio - MLB.com - Nov 11, 2020)
- May 22, 2021: Wander Franco hasn't yet made his Major League debut, but his rookie card is already pulling in the big bucks.
A signed 2019 Bowman Red Refractor graded PSA 10 sold for $198,030. It's one of just five copies.
June 21, 2021 Q&A:
The rising star recently had a fun chat with MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez.
MLB.com: Can you tell us about your nickname? We know it loosely translates to “boss man.”
Franco: Patrón is my nickname. I got it at [Rookie-level] Princeton in my first year as a professional. I was 17, and there was a lot of 20- and 21-year-olds on the team. With the numbers I was putting up, one of my teammates nicknamed me Patrón because I was so young doing good things. It just stuck with me.
MLB.com: What’s your favorite meal? Is there something you like to cook?
Franco: Arroz con huevo y avocate (rice with eggs and avocado). It’s my favorite thing to make and cook.
MLB.com: You are very active on social media. Do you have a favorite platform?
Franco: I love Instagram. It’s my favorite social media app. It’s easy to use, and I enjoy it a lot.
MLB.com: What do you do in your free time? Do you have hobbies?
Franco: I have loved sports cars since I was a kid. My mother always bought me toy sports cars to play with as a child so that was my first hobby outside of baseball. When I turned pro, I bought myself a Lamborghini and a Rolls Royce.
MLB.com: What about video games?
Franco: I play NBA [2K21], Call of Duty and MLB The Show.
MLB.com: We all know baseball players are creatures of habit. What is your daily routine?
Franco: Every day I wake up and give thanks to God for life and another day in the sun. I eat fruit and pancakes. Hit in the cage and use the machine.
MLB.com: Did you have a favorite player growing up in the Dominican Republic?
Franco: I loved all of the teams because every team had good players. I admired Manny Machado, José Ramírez and Albert Pujols growing up. That’s why I wear number 5. It’s out of respect and tribute to Albert Pujols. He’s just a legend in the Dominican Republic.
MLB.com: Which big league stadium do you want to visit the most, the stadium of your dreams?
Franco: Easy one. I’d love to play in Tropicana Field.
MLB Debut (June 22, 2021): Wander had been waiting his entire life for this day. He’s been playing under the sport’s spotlight since he was a young teenager, so he’s past the point of feeling pressure. The 20-year-old infielder said he was “born to hit.” And when he finally arrived in the Major Leagues, Franco wasted no time showing off the skills that made him baseball’s best prospect.
Franco ripped a game-tying three-run homer to left field off Red Sox lefty Eduardo Rodriguez in the fifth inning of his Major League debut at Tropicana Field, the first hit and first memorable moment. He smashed a double in the seventh and made a heads-up play in the eighth, revving up a crowd that cheered just a little bit louder than usual from the moment he emerged from the dugout for his pregame stretch and later demanded a curtain call from the team’s newest young star. Franco’s sensational debut wasn’t enough to stop the Rays’ losing skid, however, nor did his arrival slow their struggles in extra innings. Tampa Bay went quiet at the plate after Franco’s big homer and lost to the Red Sox, 9-5, in 11 innings. The Rays have lost seven straight games, their longest losing streak since dropping eight in a row from May 31-June 8, 2018, and they are now 3-9 in extra-inning games this season.
“Pretty electric player. I wish we would have somehow got a win, because it would have been a large part for his contributions,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “You never forget that big league debut. He checked a lot of boxes tonight.”
Let’s review them.
–A mature approach at the plate? Yes. Stepping up to the plate for the first time in the first inning, Franco received a standing ovation. He swung at the first two pitches he saw, both strikes, and fouled them off. He then took four straight pitches outside the zone and earned more cheers from the home crowd as he trotted to first base. Franco quickly came around to score his first run, as Randy Arozarena loaded the bases with a one-out infield single and Francisco Mejía followed by knocking a single into shallow left field.
Overall, Franco saw 21 pitches over five plate appearances. He took 10 swings. He whiffed just once, on a fastball up in the zone in the third inning.
“The way he controls the at-bats, for how young he is,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “And this building behind him, I’ve never seen anything like this in this building. For him to slow down the game, they have a special one.”
–A sweet swing with power behind it? That’s what he’s known for. The first three balls he put in play qualified as “hard-hit,” with exit velocities of 95 mph or more. After the Red Sox put up five runs against Ryan Yarbrough in a long third inning, Franco worked a full count and sent a jolt into the crowd with a 96.4 mph, 370-foot fly ball hit well to center field, but Danny Santana settled under it for Franco’s first out in the big leagues.
Franco’s talents were on display again in the seventh, when he crushed a low slider from lefty Josh Taylor to left field for a 105.3 mph double. Franco hustled and slid into second base, jumped to his feet and inspired rounds of “WAN-DER FRAN-CO” chants from the crowd of 12,994.
After seeing Franco tear up Triple-A, the Rays determined he was ready. He looked that way right away.
“You look at the last few weeks here, and it seemed like, OK, Wander made his adjustments back and was ready for a new challenge based on what he had shown and just how he's gone about his business,” general manager Erik Neander said before the game. “He passed those tests, so to speak, with flying colors, and [that] gives us the confidence that with him coming here and having to do a lot of the same things, he'll succeed in those efforts as well.”
–A knack for the big moment? There’s a reason rookie shortstop Taylor Walls marveled before the game at how Franco “never doesn't have a moment.” Batting with two on and nobody out in the fifth, Franco unloaded on a first-pitch slider from Rodriguez and smashed it 362 feet out to left field. The crowd at Tropicana Field erupted, and he returned the favor by popping out of the dugout for his first curtain call.
Kind of feels like this is where he’s meant to be, right? “God sent me a surprise with all this. I went out because I felt the support of the fans,” Franco said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “I felt like they came out to watch me and see me play, and so I wanted to thank them.”
–Oh, and he can play a little defense, too? Yep, especially with his natural instincts on the field. When Rafael Devers took off from second base on a Hunter Renfroe ground ball with one out in the eighth, Franco made the heads-up play to tag out Devers, then fired a strong throw to Yandy Díaz to force out Renfroe. Cash called it a “web gem play.” To hear Franco describe it, it sounded routine.
“When I made the play, I peeked over to see where he was at, and I saw that he was making an effort at it,” Franco said. “So I said, 'Hey, got to try to get this guy out.'”
So began the Rays’ Wander Franco era. With a loss, yes, continuing a frustrating stretch for a team trying to get back into first place. But also with electricity, energy and hope.
“We have a very good team. I think what you see from Wander, what he brought today, it's an energy,” catcher Mike Zunino said. (A Berry - MLB.com - June 23, 2021)
2021: After his second season as a professional baseball player, Wander Franco got a tattoo. He had the MLB logo inked on the left side of his neck.
2021 Season: Consider what Franco has accomplished before his 21st birthday. He slashed .288/.347/.463 with seven homers, 18 doubles and five triples while only striking out 37 times over 308 plate appearances during 70 regular-season games. By Baseball-Reference’s calculation of Wins Above Replacement, he was the Rays’ fifth-most valuable player this season despite being called up in late June and missing more than a week in September due to a hamstring injury.
Franco had the fourth-highest bWAR of any AL or NL rookie this year. The list was led by teammate Randy Arozarena (4.2), the Reds’ Jonathan India (3.9) and the Rangers’ Adolis García (3.8), with Franco checking in at 3.5 WAR. One difference: The trio ranked above Franco played in more than twice as many games as he did. Arozarena had 141 games to accumulate his WAR total, India 150 and García 149.
Franco further solidified his status as a future superstar in his first taste of postseason baseball, going 7-for-19 with two doubles, two home runs, four RBIs and five runs scored during the Rays’ four-game ALDS loss to the Red Sox. The 20-year-old’s poise under the spotlight came as no surprise to Tampa Bay. (Adam Berry - Oct. 13, 2021)
Oct 13, 2021: From the moment Wander Franco arrived at his first big league Spring Training camp, there were questions. Was the top prospect ready for the Majors? Could he possibly live up to the hype?
Those questions changed a few weeks after the 20-year-old shortstop’s unforgettable June 22 debut at Tropicana Field, and they kept coming all the way through his impressive postseason debut. Can he keep this up? Is he playing his way into American League Rookie of the Year votes? How would he handle the bright lights of the playoff stage? How is he doing this at his age, anyway?
The day after the Rays’ season ended with a loss to the Red Sox in Game 4 of the American League Division Series, manager Kevin Cash made us ponder another thought: Is Franco already one of the valuable players in all of baseball?
“I think you could make the argument that he's the most impactful player on any team in baseball,” Cash said at Tropicana Field. “Certainly for us, our team was really good; we got better when he came. He lengthened our lineup. He made our defense better. He worked really hard on his defense to make his defense better, and it made our overall defense better. “He is a game-changing player. It's going to be fun to watch for a long time.” “I've been impressed with Wander from the day he got here,” Cash said before Game 4, when Franco hit a two-run homer at Fenway Park to help the Rays tie their elimination game. “He carries himself like a seven-, eight-year veteran player. He doesn't have seven, eight months in the big leagues.
“It's fortunate for us that we have him. It's a good feeling when he's walking up to the plate every night.”
Given his age and level of experience, Franco seemed to make history just about every time he walked up to the plate. His skills were on display throughout his historic 43-game on-base streak, tied with Hall of Famer Frank Robinson in 1956 for the longest in AL/NL history by a player 20 years old or younger.Among the other Hall of Famers Franco passed while tying that record: Ken Griffey Jr., Al Kaline, Mel Ott, Arky Vaughan and Mickey Mantle. He made history in the playoffs, too.
He became the fifth player age 20 or younger to homer in consecutive postseason games, joining Rafael Devers in 2017, Miguel Cabrera in 2003, Andruw Jones in 1996 and Mantle in 1952. The pair of postseason homers he hit before turning 21 also put him in elite company -- tied with Mantle and Devers behind only Cabrera (four), Juan Soto (three) and Jones (three). Cabrera is the only player with a longer postseason hitting streak at age 20 or younger.
Despite their frustratingly early exit, the Rays know they have a bright future ahead of them. They are loaded with club-controlled players and young talent, led by Franco, Arozarena and starters Shane McClanahan, Shane Baz and Drew Rasmussen.
“We thought it was going to be a special group coming in. They proved that,” Cash said. “I think there's a chance for us to be really, really good -- very confident we're going to be really good moving forward. And it's headlined by some very talented players, in the big leagues or maybe right on the horizon.”
So, here’s another question about Franco to think about heading into his first full season next year at age 21. Can you imagine what he’ll do next? (ABerry - MLB.com - Oct 13, 2021)
2021 Season: The number one prospect in baseball was called up in June and proved he belonged from his very first game. Franco ended the season with a terrific .288/.347/.463 slash line and somehow produced 3.5 WAR in 70 games. The sky is the limit for the 22-year-old.
2022 Spring Training: Budding Rays star Wander Franco looks like one of baseball's most promising young talents, but apparently that doesn't entitle him to any old parking spot.
The second-year phenom's SUV was towed, in a manner of speaking, at Rays camp on Friday (3/18) -- after he reportedly parked it in a spot assigned to Rays GM Erik Neander.
But rather than have Franco's wheels dragged off to a pound, Rays manager Kevin Cash instead rolled it out into center field while Franco and his teammates were going through morning workouts at Charlotte Sports Park.
Franco seemed to take the "hazing" stunt in stride, laughing it off and even sharing a hug with Neander, who ran onto the field to have a chuckle at the 21-year-old's expense.
Maybe a lesser player would have seen his ride hauled off. Ah, the parking perks of being arguably the game's brightest young star. (Dan Mennella, Audacy Sports)
Sept. 2022: Franco chose to play for the Dominican Republic in the 2023 WBC.
2022 Season: Amid the hung heads and goodbye hugs in the Rays clubhouse following their Oct. 8 playoff-ending loss in Cleveland, a player who had one of the most disappointing seasons found some inspiration from the frustration.
Dealing with immense expectations (especially after signing a franchise-record $182 million extension), injuries that led to two lengthy absences and inconsistent performance, Wander Franco didn’t deliver much of an encore after his smashing 2021 debut.
But Franco, 21, insisted he will be better for it.
“I’ll always say that was a great experience for me mentally,” said Franco, via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “I’d never really gotten hurt that way before. So just being able to now know what that experience is, how I can prepare for next year and what I can do in the offseason to make sure that I can stay healthier.”
Franco got off to a sizzling start, 11-for-22 in the first five games and hitting .381 (16-for-42) with a .934 OPS through 10, before missing his first game due to right quad tightness April 18 in frigid Chicago.
He came back hot, going 6-for-14 with three homers in the next three games, hitting .393 with a 1.111 OPS through 13, before the decline started and his leg issues became more of a problem. Over the next 32 games, until going on the injured list May 31, Franco hit just .213 (26-for-122, six extra-base hits) with a .552 OPS.
He returned June 26, hit .225 with a .622 OPS in 13 games, then broke the hamate bone in his right hand on a swing, and missed two more months. He came back Sept. 9 and finished strong over 25 games hitting .322 (28-for-87, 10 extra-base hits, seven strikeouts) with an .853 OPS. He then went 1-for-9 in the two-game Wild Card Series sweep by Cleveland.
Manager Kevin Cash, understandably, is excited for 2023.
“I can’t wait to see what next season brings,” Cash said. “Wander faced a lot of challenges this year with the injuries.
“For a young player that had come up through the minor leagues, through our system, that had never been hurt to deal with the groin/hamstring area, and then the hamate bone, I honestly think it just kind of buckled him.
“This kid wants to go out and play. He’s always played pain free. He’s always kind of played with his hair on fire and he didn’t know how to manage his workload. So get him healthy, keep him healthy, and I’m betting he’s going to take off.” (Marc Topkin - Oct. 22, 2022)
- Nov. 23, 2021: Wander Franco shocked the baseball world when it was revealed he and the Tampa Bay Rays had come to agreement on a 12-year contract that guarantees him $182 million and could be worth as much as $223 million with the option and award escalators. ESPN's Jeff Passan reported that the contract will include $3 million escalators for top-five MVP finishes beginning in 2028, but it does not come with a no-trade clause. The deal locks Franco in with the Rays through the 2033 season. Franco sacrificed a ton of potential financial upside to secure the long-term deal, becoming the latest in a string of young MLB stars to do so.
|Birth City:||Bani, D.R.|
|Draft:||2017 - Fee agent - Out of the D.R.|
Franco is a switch-hitter with impressive tools. He has a loose, easy swing from both sides of the plate, and many scouts believe he could develop a plus-plus hit tool, which is a testament to his elite bat control at such a young age. He rarely swings and misses, displaying incredible command of the strike zone.
Franco has the physical tools and natural ability needed to become the top switch-hitter of his generation. He creates electric bat speed with his exceptionally strong hands and wrists, and he knows how to manipulate his swing to put barrel to ball and make consistent hard contact to all fields. Franco’s approach and plate discipline are just as advanced as his swing. He tallied more walks (83) than strikeouts (54) while posting a .336 average during his first two seasons and recorded an elite swinging-strike rate (4.3%) in 2019. Franco's plus raw power during batting practice should start to emerge in games once he learns to hit the ball in the air consistently. He shows more over-the-fence potential as a left-handed hitter, having hit all but two of his 20 career home runs from that side. (Spring 2021)
Wander has an 80 grade hit tool and 60 grade power.
If you were to build a hitter from scratch using all of the physical attributes and skills that have come to define great hitters, he'd probably end up looking something like Franco. A switch-hitter with ridiculously strong wrists, blazing-fast bat speed and preternatural bat-to-ball skills, Franco absolutely punishes the baseball to all parts of the field from both sides, attacking pitches over the plate while also demonstrating tremendous discipline and rarely swinging and missing (4.3 percent swinging-strike rate in 2019).
It's why he's recorded more walks (83) than strikeouts (54) across his first two pro seasons while compiling a .336 average. Power is the one part of Franco's game that's yet to emerge in earnest, but it's easy to forecast plus power in his future as he learns to drive the ball in the air consistently and improves upon his 2019 ground-ball rate (48.8 percent). He shows more over-the-fence potential as a left-handed hitter and hit all but two of his 20 career homers from that side during his first two campaigns.
Wander's compact, level stroke and above-average bat speed from both sides of the plate grant him a controlled aggression most young hitters can’t match. His bat control allows him to make consistent hard contact while rarely striking out. He also has an innate ability to adjust his swing, leaving few holes for pitchers to attack. Franco stings the ball and has plus power potential, but his level swing leads to more line drives and ground balls than fly balls. (J.J. Cooper - Baseball America Prospect Handbook - Spring 2021)
Splitting his age-18 season between Class A Bowling Green and Class A Advanced Charlotte, the teenage phenom slashed .327/.398/.487 with 9 homers, 43 extra-base hits and 18 steals. He is a truly elite hitter. He was the only 80-grade hitter of the 900 prospects ranked by MLB Pipeline. The switch-hitting shortstop is a career .336/.405/.523 hitter through his first 175 Minor League games, during which he has also accrued more walks (83) than strikeouts (54) while whiffing at a minuscule 4.3 percent clip. (Spring 2020)
There are hitters with exceptional awareness of the strike zone. There are others who do an excellent job of identifying pitches. There are those who have a knack of controlling the barrel and covering the entire plate. Franco has all of those attributes, plus the ability to drive the ball with power when he make contact. He has some of the best bat-to-ball skills in the minors and an excellent feel for the strike zone. He’s comfortable hitting down in the count because he can spoil pitches.
Wander has the almost-never-heard-of 80 grade hit tool on the 20-80 scouting scale. (J.J. Cooper - Baseball America - Spring, 2020)
All of Franco’s tools grade as average or better. He has sneaky, 60 grade power, with a chance to hit 20 or 30 home runs in the Majors one day.
Franco’s advanced instincts at the plate meld with quick wrists, bat speed and enough raw power to project as a future .300 hitter with above-average power. Franco makes consistent contact from both sides of the plate, complementing his mental approach as much as his physical approach.
Wander can hit just about any fastball with a short, sweet swing from either side of the plate and excellent bat speed. He stays balanced and keeps his head nearly still while generating outstanding bat speed. Unlike many prodigies blessed with amazing wrists and special hand-eye coordination, Franco already recognizes spin and refuses to chase sliders and changeups.
Franco has the ability to hit just about anything and everything, but he pairs that with advanced plate discipline. He will get over-aggressive with fastballs out of the zone, but he drives them. In the upper levels of the minors, he will have to learn to tone down his eagerness to swing at fastballs, but that’s one of the few blemishes he has as a hitter. Franco projects as a future .300 or better hitter with the ability to hit 25-30 home runs (JJ Cooper - BA Prospect Handbook - Spring, 2019)
In June 2018, Wander started his career with a flourish, collecting hits in 29 of his first 31 games, including 25 in a row that featured a 5-for-6 cycle day. He hit .370/.414/.630 with six home runs and more walks (10) than strikeouts (eight).
“I can’t recall many—and I’m somewhat of a historian—but I can’t recall a performance like Wander Franco’s,’’ said farm director Mitch Lukevics, who has been with the Rays from the beginning. “He has the wonderful ability to hit, and hit like not too many ever in this organization.
"He is a high-energy player who is a quick-twitch muscle skill player,’’ Lukevics said. “He’s a very mature 17-year-old, and he’s a wonderful kid.’’ (Marc Topkin - Baseball America - 9/07/2018)
2018 Season: Franco skipped over the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, went straight to the Appalachian League and hit .351 with 11 home runs and 46 RBIs in 61 games. He had more walks (27) than strikeouts (19), and his ability to get to his power without swinging and missing was particularly uncanny. Franco’s seven percent strikeout rate was the lowest of any minor league shortstop with at least 250 plate appearances. His .587 slugging percentage, meanwhile, was the highest.
He won’t swing and miss at a fastball. He just won’t. He is always on the fastball. It’s rare to see him hit foul balls even. His dominance at the plate reminded many of what Vladimir Guerrero Jr. did in the Appy League in 2016, but Franco was actually more productive than Guerrero at the same age.
With this, the youngest Wander Franco, there are loads of comparisons.
One is to Jose Ramirez, the Indians star who Franco grew up near and watched closely in the Dominican Republic. The ability to hit from both sides of the plate with tremendous bat speed, impressive discipline and intriguing power are all solidly similar, and both have the skill to play middle infield.
In addition, Franco said, “the joy of playing baseball is something I like to get from him.’’
Franco has exceptional hand-eye coordination. And he understands what pitchers are trying to do.
“He swings at pitches where I think, ‘How did you hit that?’” said catcher Chris Betts, a Bowling Green teammate who watched his first half from the on-deck circle. “He’s swinging at pitches I’m auto-taking and he’s hitting them hard. Every night, he’s the best player on the field.”
Franco’s best attribute at the plate is a special set of hands that generate exceptional bat speed from a very short stroke.“For me, there are guys with plus bat speed who have that bat speed because of longer levers,” Rays pro scouting director Kevin Ibach said. “Some of the above-average bat speed guys are guys with longer bat paths, but Franco is so handsy. His hand speed is probably second to none. That allows him to commit later than the average hitter with the same (above-average) bat speed. He can commit later, see the ball longer and waste pitches (by hitting fouling them off) because of how quick his hands work.” (J.J. Cooper - August, 2019)
In the 2019 Baseball America Best Tools Survey of managers, coaches and scouts, Wander was The Best Batting Prospect, Best Strike-Zone Judgment, and Most Exciting Player in the Midwest League.
Franco is Exhibit A for the type of hitter who can employ a high-contact and high-power approach simultaneously.
Thanks to the introduction of swinging-strike rate (SwStr%) data on the minor league leaderboards at FanGraphs.com, we have a good idea exactly how frequently Franco makes contact when he swings at a pitch.
Franco had swung and missed on just 4.4 percent of pitches at which he had offered, a rate that ranked him comfortably inside the top 10 among qualified full-season minor leaguers. He has a propensity for damaging the opposition. (Matt Eddy - Baseball America - Sept., 2019)
2019 Season: "He’s had an incredible year,’’ senior vice president Chaim Bloom said. "The numbers speak for themselves, but the instincts and feel for the game, on both sides of the ball, stand out even beyond his performance.
"Part of that is how infrequently he strikes out. Rarely do you see someone with such a knack for making contact in today’s game—at any age. To put the ball in play as often as he did at 18, in the leagues where he played, is unheard of.’
"Because his baseball instincts are so advanced, it’s easy to forget how young he is,’’ Bloom said. "He’s still learning a new culture and a new language. And in 2019, there is so much attention and scrutiny that comes with the accolades he’s received. Everything you do is watched and everyone wants a piece of you.
"But the thing about Wander is that—to steal a phrase from (late Rays field coordinator) Jim Hoff—he likes the lights. He’s comfortable being under that microscope. So while he’s still growing up, and there are still many tests ahead of him, what we’ve seen so far gives us confidence that he’s going to be just fine.’’ (Marc Topkin - BA - Oct. 2019)
November 2019: Baseball America's JJ Cooper:
Franco's amazing Hit Tool: "Few batters have Franco's ability to put bat on ball pitch after pitch with an ability to drive the ball. Most of the players with this kind of freakish hand-eye coordination are slap hitters (see Nick Madrigal or Willians Astudillo). Franco is the kind of hitter who can look to feast at 0-0 and 0-1, because he has complete confidence that if he gets to two strikes, he can still battle and drive the ball.
"Wander hit .273/.373/.397 in 2019 with two strikes. That doesn't match his overall numbers. He hit over .350 when he was facing zero or one strikes when the at-bat was completed. But it is far beyond what the average hitter does. In 2019, MLB hitters hit .173/.247/.286 with two strikes."
Franco, a switch-hitter with electric bat speed, has outstanding hand-eye coordination and an incredibly advanced approach for an 18-year-old. His strikeout rate of 7 percent ranked second in the Minors in the 2019 season.
- Winter Ball 2020: Franco is showing why he's the No. 1 prospect in baseball as he stars for Leones del Escogido in the Dominican Winter League. The 19-year-old is hitting .350 (7-for-20) with a homer and two RBIs. He's tied for second in the league with seven hits and is second with 10 total bases despite missing a couple of games due to discomfort in his right bicep.
In 2019, Franco hit .327 with 9 homers and 53 RBIs over 114 games.
In 2020, he spent the summer working out at the Rays' alternate training site.
2021 Top International Prospect: Wander Franco.
Franco was ranked as the No. 2 international prospect behind Shohei Ohtani for the 2017-2018 period before the Rays inked him. The 19-year-old switch-hitter has done nothing but rake since then, compiling a .336/.405/.523 line with 71 extra-base hits, 110 RBIs and more walks (83) thank strikeouts (54) in 175 games across his first two seasons.
May 15, 2021: Wander Franco continued his strong start to the Minor League season, crushing a grand slam in the second inning of Triple-A Durham's game against Jacksonville.
With the bases loaded and two outs, the Rays prospect teed off on a 2-1 pitch from Jumbo Shrimps righthander Alexander Guillen. It was Franco's third homer in 10 games this season, but his first at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
The 20-year-old phenom began the night with five multi-hit efforts in his first nine games this year. He is hitting .314/.390/.600 with six RBIs and seven runs scored.
Franco slashed .327/.398/.487 with 9 homers and 18 stolen bases over 114 games with Class A Bowling Green and Class A Advanced Charlotte in 2019, his last Minor League action due to the 2020 shutdown. (P Casella - MLB .com - may 15, 2021)
Aug. 29, 2021: Franco passed Hall of Famer Mel Ott by reaching base in 31 straight games at age 20 or younger, with only Mickey Mantle’s 36-game streak that stretched from the end of 1951 to the start of 1952 ahead of him.
Sept. 6, 2021: Franco extended his on-base streak to 36 games with a triple, tying Mickey Mantle for the most consecutive games reaching base safely for a player age 20 or younger.
September 24, 2021: Wander extended his on-base streak to 40 games with a walk in the sixth inning.
September 29, 2021: Wander Franco waited until his final plate appearance on September 28, 2021, to extend his historic on-base streak. He drew a walk in his final trip to the plate, but he said he had a different plan in mind for this game against the Astros at Minute Maid Park.
“I’ll take a walk,” Franco said before the game. “Hopefully today, I can connect with a hit earlier.”
Much earlier, in fact. Franco swung at the first pitch he saw from Houston starter Luis Garcia, a fastball in the strike zone, and knocked it down the left-field line for a one-out double. He has reached safely in 43 consecutive games, tied with Frank Robinson for the longest on-base streak in AL/NL history by a player 20 years old or younger.
Wander had a good game. The rookie went 3-for-5, boosting his average to .290 and his OPS to .830, and made a sensational leaping catch at shortstop for the first out of the ninth inning.
Franco’s streak is reaching a point where it’s not just historic because of his age. It’s the third-longest among rookies in American League history, behind Seattle’s Alvin Davis (47 in 1984) and New York’s Charlie Keller (44 in 1939). It’s the longest active streak in the Majors, the longest by a rookie in Rays history and the longest in the Modern Era for a rookie shortstop. Additionally, it’s the longest single-season streak in Tampa Bay history and only five games short of matching Tommy Pham’s team record set in 2018-19.
After this performance, Franco has recorded five more hits (55) than swinging strikes (48) during his on-base streak. He’s struck out only twice in his last 78 plate appearances and four times in his last 119, and he’s had more walks (17) than strikeouts (15) over his past 43 games.
“It’s just his discipline at the plate,” teammate Yandy Díaz said. “Not a lot of rookies, let alone any kind of ballplayer, has that discipline.” (Berry - mlb.com)
October 1, 2021: Wander’s on-base streak ended at 43 games, tied with Frank Robinson in 1956 for the longest in AL/NL history by a player 20 years old or younger. Oddly enough, his streak ended in a game in which he stood on first base three times.
Franco went 0-for-4 in the Rays’ 3-2 loss to the Astros at Minute Maid Park, the first time since July 24 that the 20-year-old didn’t reach base safely on a hit, walk or hit-by-pitch. (He appeared to have kept the streak alive in the sixth inning, when he was called safe at first base on an infield single. But umpires went to a replay review and the initial ruling was overturned.) (Berry - mlb.com)
- 2021 Season: Wander hit .288/.347/.463 with seven home runs during his 70-game rookie campaign. He was at his best in the Rays’ American League Division Series loss to the Red Sox, going 7-for-19 with a pair of homers. He finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year Award voting. He signed an extension with Tampa Bay that guarantees him $182 million over the next 11 years, with the potential to earn $223 million through 2033.
“He’s a tremendous player. As we’ve seen before, and as I’ve said before, he can handle the pressure pretty well,” added starter Luis Patiño. “He’s a future young star. What he did, he deserves exactly what he got in terms of his contract.”
Above the MLB logo tattoo on the left side of Franco’s neck, which he had done after his second season in professional baseball, Franco added the numbers “22-06-21” for June 22, 2021: the date of his MLB debut. He indulged by buying three new necklaces with some of his new earnings, including the diamond medallion he wore with his last name and No. 5 inscribed on it. (A Berry - MLBB.com - March 14, 2022)
Wander reeks of athleticism. He has solid shortstop tools. He has more than enough arm for the position, but scouts are split on whether he fits best at shortstop or second base.
Franco's strong, compact build, as well as his being only a slightly above-average runner, have prompted questions about his ability to stick at shortstop long term. Still, he's passed every test early in his career, showing an advanced feel for playing the position and plenty of arm strength. He could be an even better defensive player with a move to third or second base, both of which he saw time at while at the Rays’ alternate site to glowing reviews. The Rays continued to have him work around the infield during Spring Training, even giving him one start at the hot corner, specifically to create additional paths to playing time. That versatility will only create more avenues to the Major Leagues for Franco, whose dynamic bat has him poised to impact the Rays’ roster in 2021 and beyond.(Spring 2021)
Franco’s soft hands, above-average arm and solid understanding of the game give him a shot to stay at shortstop, where he’s a potentially average defender. The Rays played him at second base and third base at the alternate site to help prepare for the possibility he could break into the Majors at another spot. He has the tools to be an above-average or even plus defender at second or third.
Though there are few doubts, if any, about the 19-year-old's hitting ability, Franco has also handled the shortstop position well in his brief professional career, displaying the hands, range and arm strength to potentially stick at the position long term, according to scouting reports.
Franco earns high marks from evaluators for his hands, range and actions as a shortstop, and he's universally praised for the confidence and leadership he exudes at the position. Franco's strong, compact build as well as the fact that he's only a slightly above-average runner have prompted questions about his ability to stick at shortstop long term, but he's passed every test early in his career, showing advanced feel for playing the position and plenty of arm strength.
A shift over to second base or third base isn't out of the question, and it wouldn't be surprising if the Rays were to start increasing Franco's defensive versatility as they do with many of their young, athletic infielders. And while the Rays do have a history of patiently developing young talent, Franco, with his All-Star-caliber ceiling, could end up being an exception. (Spring 2021)
Defensively, he has body control and an excellent internal clock. His instincts, above-average arm and hands give him a shot to be an average or even above-average shortstop, and he could be a plus defender at second base or third base. Wander has soft, agile hands, but his thicker body gives him little margin for error to remain at the position.
Franco seems to end up at the right place on defense all the time. He slows the game down to the point to where nothing really catches him off guard.
- There are a few questions about whether he’ll stick at shortstop, but he has range to play second base and the arm to play third base. No matter where he winds up, his skill set should allow him to settle in as the best players in the game in his early 20s. (Oct. 2019)
- June 2021: In his first week with the Rays, he played both third base and shortstop. (Baseball-Reference.com - June 2021)
- Wander has 50 grade running ability.
Dec 2, 2020: Tests revealed that Franco does not have any structural damage in his shoulder and biceps area.
Franco, who experienced biceps inflammation and shoulder soreness while playing winter ball with Escogido in the Dominican Republic, flew to St. Petersburg to be examined by Dr. Koco Eaton. The tests all came back clean, removing any long-term injury concerns.
Sept 11-24, 2021: Wander was on the Il with right hammy tightness. Rays manager Kevin Cash said that the recovery timetable is between two and three weeks, but he hoped Franco's "youth and athleticism" would work to his advantage and spell a return before the end of the regular season.
"It's still really early," Cash added. "We'll find out, have a better sense, in probably another week how he's responding to treatment and go from there."
Sept 14, 2021: Imaging revealed a low-grade strain to the muscle. On Sept. 13, Cash said he was encouraged to hear Major League medical coordinator Paul Harker report that Franco had a “very, very good day.” The good news kept coming on Sept. 14, when Cash said Franco is scheduled to hit off a tee and take part in some on-field activities after the Rays return home on Sept. 16.
Sept 21, 2021: Franco, Tampa Bay’s switch-hitting shortstop, reported to Triple-A Durham to begin his Minor League rehab assignment and took part in an afternoon workout on the field at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
May 30-June 26, 2022: Franco was placed on the 10-day injured list due to a strained quadriceps. Manager Kevin Cash said Franco felt a tug in his leg as he was rounding first base.
- July 10-Sept 9, 2022: Franco will be out for five-to-eight weeks after undergoing wrist surgery to repair his hamate bone in his right hand.