The Rays will be well-represented in the SiriusXM All-Star 2019 Futures Game in Cleveland as Wander Franco, Brendan McKay and Ronaldo Hernandez were all selected to participate in the event. Tampa Bay is one of four organizations with three representatives in the July 7 game.
Franco, who signed for $3.85 million as an international prospect out of the Dominican Republic, was just recently listed as the top prospect in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline, and has quickly become one of the most anticipated prospects in Rays franchise history.
The 18-year-old prospect made his debut in the Rookie-level Appalachian League in 2018 and established his place as a top prospect after hitting .351/.418/.587 with 11 home runs in 61 games. This year, Franco started the season with Class A Bowling Green, but was promoted to Class A Advanced Charlotte on Tuesday and has already begun showing off his prowess at the plate. Since his promotion, Franco has gone 7-for-12 with one home run and four RBIs.
Perhaps what’s most impressive about Franco is his ability to put the ball in play. In 487 total at-bats in the Minors, Franco has drawn 58 walks and has only struck out 39 times. It’s the type of pace that leads many to believe that Franco, even though he’s just 18 years old, could be on the fast track to the Majors.
“He can really hit,” said 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.”
Despite all the hype surrounding Franco, the shortstop has been able to stay focused as he works his way through the Minors, largely due to the baseball bloodline in his family. His father pitched in the Minors and both his brothers, who are all named Wander, are currently in the Giants organization.
“We worry extremely about all of our 17, soon to be 18-year olds because they’re just that,” Lukevics said. “But he’s a fairly mature young man for his age. I could just see his background being a little more different than his age from a Latin country. He has some good bloodlines, so I’m sure he was schooled properly.”
Franco has hit everywhere he’s been, and now he’ll get a chance to do it on a national stage.
McKay, a two-way player who is now the Rays’ top pitching prospect according to MLB Pipeline, is not expected to participate in the game. Because McKay will be activated by the Rays before Saturday’s game against the Rangers, which he will start, he is unlikely to participate in the Futures Game.
In five games at Triple-A, the Rays’ first-round pick in 2017 is 3-0 with a 1.08 ERA.
Hernandez, 21, is the organization’s top catching prospect. After a slow start to the 2019 season, Hernandez has bounced back well in a pitcher-friendly Florida State League and is hitting .266 with five home runs this season.
The native of Colombia was signed as an international prospect in 2014.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this in my 24th year here,” Lukevics said about the current talent in the Rays’ farm system. “As a historian, we haven’t had a group like this.”