Baseball America and Topps/Bowman NEXT are teaming up to release several commemorative 2020 Top 100 Prospects card sets. You can purchase yours here. We’ll also be giving away one free set a week to BA readers, which you can enter to win here.
Each week, we’ll spotlight one player who is also included in the card sets. Here is our first installment:
The question for today is: Is Wander Franco the best No. 1 prospect in baseball in years?
Based on our BA/Grades, the answer is no. We have gotten more conservative in how we grade, especially with our use of low risk, but just last year, we gave Vladimir Guerrero Jr. an 80 grade.
2020: Wander Franco — 75/High
2019: Vladimir Guerrero — 80/Medium
2018: Ronald Acuña –70/Medium
2017: Andrew Benintendi — 65/Low
Also in 2017: Yoan Moncada — 70/Medium
2016: Corey Seager — 70/Low
2015: Kris Bryant — 75/Medium
2014: Byron Buxton — 75/Low
2013: Jurickson Profar — 75/Low
2012: Bryce Harper — 80/Low
Also in 2012: Mike Trout — 75/Low
Here’s our roundtable discussion of where Franco stands right now.
JJ Cooper: I’d rather have Wander Franco at this point in his career than almost any No. 1 prospect of the past decade, based on what we knew at the same time about those prospects.
As good as Kris Bryant has been, he had strikeout issues for example. But I do think Franco is not yet to the level that Ronald Acuña was coming into 2018 when he topped a loaded top five that included Shohei Ohtani, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Eloy Jimenez and Victor Robles. Acuña at that point was MLB ready and was coming off of an exceptional season at Double-A and Triple-A that earned him MiLB Player of the Year honors. He had speed, defense and an arm to go with his power and hitting ability. Franco may eventually match Acuña in every category other than speed and he plays in the infield, but he is two steps down the ladder right now compared to where Acuña was coming into 2018. If Franco simply keeps doing what he’d done in rookie ball in Class A again this year in Double-A and Triple-A, he would add the MLB-readiness (and the resultant reduced risk) to the extremely impressive tools and skills he’s already demonstrated.
I do think that Franco is the best pure hitting prospect we’ve seen in years, as he has Vladimir Guerrero Jr.,’s hitting skills but in a more athletic and better body, which means he’ll beat out hits that Guerrero won’t be able to. Franco’s extremely advanced approach at the plate and some of the best bat-to-ball skills in the game give him the ability to do things that mere mortal hitters simply can’t do. But when comparing him to Guerrero last year, Guerrero had done everything he could do in the minors at this point last year. Franco has yet to conquer Double-A.
And I also think Franco is the least risky prospect I can remember without Double-A or higher time on his resume. There’s very little doubt that he’s going to hit and he’s going to play a position with defensive value (whether that’s shortstop, second or third base). The question is going forward is just how unique and special a hitter is he going to be. For most Class A hitters, the risk is whether they will be an MLB regular. That’s not the question with Franco.
Kyle Glaser: People have incredibly short memories, and it feels like we ask this with the No. 1 prospect every year. Heck, it was only last year people were asking the same thing about Vladimir Guerrero Jr. The answer on Franco, as it was with Guerrero, is no. Both are gifted hitters, but neither comes anywhere near to having the explosiveness of Ronald Acuna, who is a force at the plate himself. Acuna was far and away the best of three as a prospect without needing to think twice about it. His mix of power, speed, arm strength, defense and ability to make rapid adjustments was on a different level than anyone else, Franco included. Franco is very talented and incredibly gifted, but it was only two years ago we had an even better prospect in Acuna.
Josh Norris: I’d probably give Ronald Acuña the slight edge over Wander Franco at this point, but it’s close. Acuña was the best prospect I’ve ever had the pleasure to see in person, at the Futures Game, in the Arizona Fall League and on the backfields in Florida. Even when the results weren’t particularly notable you could still see the lightning waiting to light up any field he was on. Franco’s luster at this point is about what he doesn’t do. He doesn’t strike out, he doesn’t swing and miss and he doesn’t let his environment affect him. He thrived in the early chill of the Midwest League and the sweltering summer of the Florida State League. Franco might be a more advanced prospect—we’re talking about a player who will play all season at 19 years old and might make his big league debut in his second full season—but I think Acuña has a slightly higher ceiling.
Matt Eddy: Considering the last 10 prospect classes, I would rank Franco near the bottom of a ranking of No. 1 overall prospects in baseball. At the time they were prospects, I preferred the present power and offensive upside of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (2019), Ronald Acuña Jr. (2018), Corey Seager (2016), Kris Bryant (2015) and Bryce Harper (2012) to Franco. That’s no slight to Franco—those were incredible young hitters.
I also had fewer reservations about Byron Buxton (2014) at the time he was the best prospect in baseball. My view of Jurickson Profar (2013) was roughly the same back then as my view of Franco is today. Both are/were precocious, switch-hitting middle infielders with strong strike-zone knowledge and developing power.
Ben Badler: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit .381/.437/.636 as a 19-year-old split mostly between Double-A and Triple-A in 2018. I love Franco, but I would go with the teenager annihilating upper level pitching over him. Now, you can make a reasonable argument for Franco because of the positional value he has over Guerrero, and it’s not like I have much doubt that Franco’s hitting ability will translate once he gets to Double-A and Triple-A. But I would still take Guerrero at that point over Franco.