The Tampa Bay Rays have been an organization with a relatively strong minor-league system over the last few years. However, with their current state, the future looks to be very bright. In Minor League Baseball’s latest rankings of each farm system, the Rays came in at number one.
They have many exciting players who are likely to make an impact in the big leagues in the coming years, led by 19-year-old shortstop Wander Franco. Currently the top prospect in the game, the Dominican Republic product has raked at every level in the minors, showing the type of hitting tools that could make one think he will be a star in the show.
Franco was signed by the Rays as an international free agent in 2017 and instantly made an impact when he began his career. In Franco’s first season as a pro, he was named the 2018 Appalachian League Player of the Year after hitting .351 with 11 home runs and 57 RBIs in 61 games. Last year Franco split time between Single-A Bowling Green and High-A Charlotte, compiling a .326 average across 114 games while hitting nine home runs.
A Future Star
The Rays are taking their time with Franco’s development, but his bat is doing the talking as he continues to terrorize any pitching that he sees, no matter what level. His current ETA in the majors is 2021 which seems realistic, especially considering the 2020 season has yet to begin due to coronavirus. Franco has a relatively simple swing from both sides, while doing a great job of hitting the baseball where it’s pitched. He has an extremely quick and powerful stroke with minimal movement in his lower half. Below is a spray chart of all his hits in the minors, proving that he has a very advanced approach at the plate:
Whether it’s a double in the gap or a homer, Franco does a fantastic job of using the entire field. The next trait that impresses with Franco’s offensive production is his limited number of strikeouts compared to walks. In 2019 he struck out just 35 times in 114 games while drawing 56 free passes, a testament to his discipline at the dish. At this point, the youngster hasn’t necessarily tapped into his potential from a power standpoint, as he has totaled just 20 home runs in 174 minor-league games. But as he learns to consistently drive the baseball in the air, the power numbers will definitely increase.
Defensively, Franco has soft hands and quick reactions at shortstop, showing the ability to play the position for the foreseeable future. Given he’s just 5-foot-10 though, a move to either second or third base could be a possibility. However, more versatility at a number of infield positions is only going to benefit Franco and the Rays.
They will be adamant about having his bat in the lineup at all times once he arrives in the big leagues. The Rays top prospect also has decent speed on the basepaths, swiping 18 bags last season. If Franco can become a smarter baserunner too, it’s only going to make him that much better of an all-around player.
Bright Future for Tampa Bay
At this point, it’s not hard to understand why Tampa Bay’s 2019 Minor League Player of the Year is the number one prospect in the game. He’s mature beyond his years, especially offensively, and continues to prove that he can swing it at every minor-league level. Along with other prospects like Brendan McKay and Brent Honeywell, the Tampa Bay Rays have a very exciting future ahead of them, led by Wander Franco.