Fun, fast facts about MLB's top prospect

June 21st, 2021

Signed by the Rays as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2017, Wander Franco is about to make his much-anticipated MLB debut. Franco is MLB Pipeline's No. 1 overall prospect in baseball, jumping from the Class A Advanced level to Triple-A after the 2020 Minor League campaign was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At Triple-A Durham, Franco hit .315 with a .954 OPS in 39 games, proving he's ready for his chance at The Show. Here's what you need to know about the 20-year-old switch-hitting shortstop.

MLB organization: Rays
Birthdate: March 1, 2001 (Age 20 in 2021)
Primary position: SS
Height/weight: 5-foot-10, 189 lbs.
Bats/throws: Both/right
Hometown: Baní, Dominican Republic
Signed: July 2, 2017 (by TB)

One of his cards just sold for $200K

Before Franco has even played his first Major League game, his baseball card is already selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars. An autographed 2019 Bowman Chrome first-year card of Franco was just auctioned off for $198,030 -- a record for a Franco card, per Goldin Auctions.

When Wander was still in Class A, a one-of-a-kind Superfractor version of the same card sold for between $60,000 and $100,000. That's a lot of money for any player's card, but maybe Franco is just that good.

His on-field exploits are already legendary

Franco does things with the bat that rise to mythic status among those who witness them. Like the home run he hit this Spring Training that maybe still hasn't landed (or, at the least, may have been hit clean over the Rays' office building beyond the right-field fence at the team's stadium in Port Charlotte). That homer made Shane McClanahan say afterwards: "Oh my God, that thing went over the building. You don’t see that. I think that just showcases how truly special a player Wander Franco is. Kid's 19 years old, 20 years old, and he’s putting balls over buildings."

Or the time his Princeton Rays teammates had struck out seven times by the top of the fourth inning against the Pulaski Yankees … and Wander had already homered twice and tripled while driving in the team's first six runs of a game in which he'd also hit for the cycle.

Or the time the Rays brought their top instructional league prospects, including a 17-year-old Franco, to The Trop for a home run derby, a derby Franco trailed by 10 entering the final round … only to crush 15 homers to win the whole thing.

He's 'El Patrón'

All the way back in Rookie ball, Franco had already earned the nickname "Patrón" -- that basically translates to "Boss Man."

That's what Franco's teammates with the Princeton Rays called him (although Rays farm director Mitch Lukevics said at the time he called him "Wonderful Wander Franco"), and it's stuck with him through the Minor Leagues. Now, the first line of Franco's Instagram bio reads in bold letters, "El Patron #5."

He could be Baní's next great hitter

Some great players have come from Franco's hometown of Baní, including another superstar shortstop, former AL MVP Miguel Tejada. But Franco could follow more directly in the footsteps of a fellow switch-hitter from Baní and current big league star: the Indians' José Ramírez. Franco and Ramírez grew up in the same neighborhood together. Franco first met Ramírez when he was seven and Ramírez was 15.

"That’s my friend from back home and I watch him a lot, to try and obviously understand what hitters are trying to do," Franco told Baseball America in 2018. "When I was little we were neighbors, so I got to meet him and watch him come up and do all his good things. That’s my idol."

As for Ramírez, he told's Jesse Sanchez that same year, "I have [Wander] over to my house, we practice, we train together, I'm helping him a lot. He's good. Better than me. He has more strength, more of everything. He really knows how to play."

He's been No. 1 a long time

Franco got the largest signing bonus of any international amateur free agent in the 2017 class, $3,825,000 from the Rays, when he was 16.

When he made his professional debut in 2018, the Rays skipped Franco past their complex-level leagues and sent him to Rookie Advanced Princeton as a 17-year-old. All he did was hit .351/.418/.587 with 11 home runs, 27 walks and only 19 strikeouts in 61 games. During his professional debut, Franco put together a 25-game hitting streak from June 23-July 25. He struck out only six times in 113 plate appearances during that stretch. He led the Appalachian League with 142 total bases at the same age as most high school juniors.

Franco was named the 2018 Appalachian League Player of the Year, and the Rays named him Princeton’s MVP. Additionally, he was the only 17-year-old to get enough at-bats to qualify for the league’s batting title, and he finished fourth in that race.

Franco made the All-Star Futures Game in 2019, where he led off and started at shortstop for the AL, when he was 18. In the same year, the Rays named Franco their Minor League Player of the Year after he hit .327/.398/.487 with 27 doubles, seven triples, nine homers and 53 RBIs in 114 games between Class A Bowling Green and Class A Advanced Charlotte. He led all Tampa Bay prospects with 82 runs and tied for first with 139 hits.

While playing for Bowling Green, Franco reportedly went nearly two weeks (and more than 100 pitches) without swinging and missing at a single offering. In his final 34 games with Bowling Green, Franco had 150 plate appearances and struck out only seven times. He had more doubles (nine) and stolen bases (10) than strikeouts during that stretch.

Between 2018-19, there were 1,335 players in the Minors with at least 500 plate appearances. Only two players hit at least .300, slugged at least .500 and walked more than they struck out: the Blue Jays’ Alejandro Kirk and Franco.

• In June 2019, Franco officially became MLB Pipeline’s top-ranked prospect. He took that spot when another talented young shortstop graduated: Fernando Tatis Jr. Franco was the youngest player to land atop’s prospect rankings since they began in 2004.

Last year, Franco became the fourth player to rank as Baseball America’s top prospect two years in a row. The others: Andruw Jones (1996-97), Joe Mauer (2004-05) and Bryce Harper (2011-12). Additionally, Franco became the fifth shortstop to earn the No. 1 overall prospect ranking from Baseball America. The others: Corey Seager in 2016, Jurickson Profar in ’13, Alex Rodriguez in 1995 and Chipper Jones in ’93.

When he was second, it was only to The Sho

Before signing with the Rays on July 2, 2017, Franco was ranked as the No. 2 international prospect during the 2017-18 signing period. The only player above him? Two-way Japanese sensation Shohei Ohtani.

Franco in more good company

Franco is one of only two players to ever earn an 80-grade hit tool since MLB Pipeline began ranking prospects. The other: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

Franco will be MLB Pipeline’s first No. 1 overall prospect to make his debut since Guerrero on April 26, 2019. Since Franco has owned the top spot since 2019 and there was no Minor League season last year, it’s been more than two years since the Minors’ top-ranked talent debuted in the Majors.

Baseball … and Wanders … run in the family

Franco's father, also named Wander, pitched in the Minors in the White Sox organization back in the 1970s. The younger Wander and his two brothers -- who are named Wander, too -- learned their love of the game from their dad. In their childhood home, the Wander Bros. would play a stickball-like game called "vitilla," swinging broomsticks at water jug caps. Wander's older brothers, Wander Javier and Wander Alexander (the Rays' Wander is Wander Samuel) played Minor League ball, too. It's a family of baseball Wanders.

Franco’s mother, Nancy, had two ball-playing brothers: former Major League infielders Erick Aybar and Willy Aybar. Erick played 12 seasons in the Majors, 10 of them with the Angels, and began this year playing in the Mexican League. Willy spent five years in the big leagues, including three with the Rays from 2008-10.

His journey to the big leagues started at age 10

People have known Franco was something special for a long time. He was only 10 years old when he caught the eye of the late Dominican trainer and longtime MLB scout Rudy Santin, who ran an academy to develop young players and helped many secure deals with MLB teams.

Franco was too young to join Santin's academy at the time, but Santin left him a glove and cleats and, when Franco turned 13, he went to Santin's MVP Sports Academy in Santo Domingo. Santin even called a press conference at a local restaurant to announce that Wander had arrived.

"I invited all of the press and told everybody that this kid will be legit and they're looking at the next superstar," Santin recalled to's Jesse Sanchez. "People were telling me I'm nuts. They were all laughing at this crazy man saying this kid is going to be special. The radio stations killed me. Everyone destroyed me, but I was right."

It was there that Major League organizations first saw Franco, like the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays … and Rays.