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Wander Franco: Rays 2019 Minor League Player Of The Year

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If one were to forecast the Rays' minor league player of the year on Opening Day, 18-year-old shortstop Wander Franco would have been a popular pick.

Coming off a great season in the Rookie-level Appalachian League, Franco seemed primed for additional success and advancement in full-season ball.

Right on both accounts.

Franco split the season between low Class A Bowling Green and high Class A Charlotte. He hit .321/.394/.480 with nine home runs and 18 stolen bases through 112 games. The switch-hitter drew 56 walks against 35 strikeouts.

"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.’’

The success has brought attention, which Franco doesn’t run from. If anything, he brings some more on himself by telling anyone who asks he hopes to be in the majors by the end of next season. He signed out of the Dominican Republic ate age 16 in 2017.

But the Rays like what they’ve seen in that regard, too.

"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.’’

COOL RAYS

— Double-A Montgomery righthander Joe Ryan took a while to get to pro ball, opting for college then transferring from Division I Cal State Northridge to D-II Cal State Stanislaus and then being drafted in the seventh round in 2018. But he’s made up for it in a hurry this season. He went a 9-4, 1.97 with 172 strikeouts in his first 119 innings over three levels.

— Lefthander Shane McClanahan, who moved through three levels to Double-A Montgomery, and shortstop/righthander Jake Cronenworth, who emerged as a legitimate two-way weapon at Triple-A  Durham until a mid-July hamstring injury, also had huge seasons. Two under-the-radar contributors were lefty Michael Plassmeyer, who was part of the Mike Zunino-Mallex Smith trade with the Mariners and went 9-3, 1.92 at two Class A stops, and righty Zach Trageton, who went 9-2, 1.87 in moving up from the short-season Hudson Valley to Bowling Green.

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Tampa Bay Rays 2020 Top 10 MLB Prospects Chat

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