Wander Franco (minors03)
Wander Samuel Franco
- Bats Both, Throws Right
- Height 5' 10", Weight 189 lb.
Shortstop Wander Franco was signed as an amateur free agent by the Tampa Bay Rays on July 2, 2017. He shares his name with two older brothers, Wander Javier Franco and Wander Alexander Franco who began their pro careers in 2012 and 2014, respectively. His father was also named Wander and played baseball, although never in organized baseball; he is also the nephew of Willy Aybar and Erick Aybar.
Wander made his pro debut in 2018 with the Princeton Rays and set the Appalachian League ablaze, hitting .351/.418/.587 in 61 games. He hit 10 doubles, 7 triples and 11 homers, scored 46 runs and drove in 57. He was named the league's Player of the Year and was named to a slew of All-Star teams. He did not let up in 2019 as he continued to burn his way through the minors, tearing two circuits in which he was one of the youngest players: he hit .318 in 62 games for the Bowling Green Hot Rods of the Midwest League, and .339 in 52 games for the Charlotte Stone Crabs in the Florida State League. He was the youngest player to take part in the 2019 Futures Game and was named a post-season All-Star in both leagues he played in, as well as an organizational All-Star. His combined batting line in 114 games was an eye-popping .327/.398/.487 with 82 runs scored. His great season earned him comparisons with the previous year's minor league phenom, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. For example, both had earned the extremely rare perfect 80 grade given by scouts for their raw hitting ability. Experts also pointed out that the two had followed the exact same path through the minors, albeit two years apart, and that Franco had put up even better numbers than Guerrero - although Guerrero had already established that he could hit major league pitching at that point, something that is never a given, which gave him an advantage.
However, the Rays decided to keep Franco off the major league roster in 2020, and given the lack of minor league competition, it means that he spent the year at the team's alternate training site where the only action was simulated games. There were regular rumors that he would be called up as some point, all the way until the World Series (a few other top prospects made their debut in the postseason that year), but it never happened. The question heading into 2021 was how much that year without true competition would cost him in terms of development at a crucial stage in his career.
- Adam Berry: "Wander's vision: Big leagues this year", mlb.com, February 27, 2021. 
- Jim Callis: "Vlad Jr. or Wander Franco? Executives weigh in", mlb.com, April 7, 2020. 
- Scott Chiusano: "Could No. 1 prospect debut in World Series? Wander Franco's Instagram post fuels speculation", mlb.com, October 20, 2020.