Image credit: Wander Franco (Photo by Carl Kline)
It would have been easy for shortstop Wander Franco to fail to meet expectations this year.
Having never played a game above Rookie ball, the 18-year-old Rays prospect was already heralded as one of the best hitters in the minor leagues.
Now, Franco is the No. 1 prospect in baseball, and as unfathomable as it may seem, the expectations for Franco’s bat have only grown.
Franco earned a midseason promotion to high Class A Charlotte after hitting .318/.390/.506 at low Class A Bowling Green. He walked 30 times while striking out just 20 times. He managed to be one of the most patient hitters in the Midwest League (his .390 on-base percentage ranked fifth best) while also being one of the toughest to strike out (his 7.4 percent strikeout rate led the league). He hit for power (.189 isolated slugging ranked eighth) and average (third).
How does he do it? For starters, Franco has exceptional hand-eye coordination. 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 of Franco’s 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.”
Franco celebrated his promotion to the Florida State League by collecting two or more hits in five of his first six games, giving a whole new league of pitchers, coaches and scouts a chance to see how he’s living up to every expectation.