Pipeline names Rays Prospects of the Year

September 19th, 2019

While Wander Franco is still a couple of levels away from reaching the big leagues, there's a legitimate reason to believe that the young infielder could play in a Rays uniform at some point during the 2020 season.

Franco has been named Tampa Bay’s Minor League Hitter of the Year by MLB Pipeline, while right-handed pitcher Joe Ryan was named the Rays' Minor League Pitcher of the Year after a breakout season.

Each team's Hitting and Pitching Prospects of the Year were chosen by the MLB Pipeline staff. To receive consideration, players must have spent at least half the year in the Minors and appeared on the team's Top 30 Prospects list.

After hitting .351 with 11 home runs in his first half-season of professional baseball, Franco -- who turned 18 in March -- continued to produce huge numbers at the plate in his first full season in the Rays’ system.

Franco began the season with Class A Bowling Green, and he immediately began to make an impact. In 62 games, he hit six home runs with an .896 OPS. Those early results earned Franco a callup to Class A Advanced Charlotte, which didn’t seem to phase the young Dominican infielder.

In 52 games with the Stone Crabs, Franco hit .339 with three home runs in the Florida State League, which is known to be extremely pitcher-friendly. Most impressively for Franco, who also highlighted the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game in Cleveland during All-Star Weekend, is the fact that he struck out just 35 times and drew 56 walks in 495 plate appearances this season between the two levels.

“He can really hit,” said former Rays director of Minor League operations Mitch Lukevics. “There are not many players that I’ve come across in my career that hit like Wander Franco, especially at a young age. He has a really good bat-to-ball ratio. He just has the ability to hit a baseball. It’s special.”

With a stellar first full season in the Minors, Franco has put himself in the conversation for a possible promotion to the big leagues next season. In fact, if you ask Franco when he expects to make it to Tropicana Field, he’ll quickly flash a smile and say, “next year.”

Ryan, the Rays' No. 16 prospect, had a breakout season in 2019 and established himself as one of the top pitching prospects in the rich Tampa Bay system. Like Franco, Ryan began the season at Bowling Green, but it didn’t take long for him to earn a promotion to Charlotte.

After posting a 2.93 ERA in six starts at Bowling Green, Ryan continued his dominant season on the mound with the Stone Crabs. In 15 outings (13 starts) at Class A Advanced, Ryan finished with a 1.42 ERA and struck out 112 hitters over 82 2/3 innings.

Because of the low ERA and high strikeout numbers, the 23-year-old Ryan earned his second promotion of the season to Double-A Montgomery, where he finished the season by posting a 3.38 ERA in three starts. Even in a higher level, the strikeout rate remained for Ryan, who fanned 24 hitters over 13 1/3 innings.

The Tampa Bay farm system is considered the second best in the Majors, according to MLB Pipeline, and players like Franco and Ryan play a big part in that ranking. It'll be interesting to see just how soon these two players arrive to help the Major League team.