ST. PETERSBURG -- Baseball’s No. 1 overall prospect according to MLB Pipeline, Wander Franco, was named the Minor League Player of the Year in the Rays’ organization after a stellar first full season. Right-handed pitcher Joe Ryan (ranked 15th in the Rays’ system) was named the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year after a breakout campaign.
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 made an impact. In 62 games, he hit six home runs with an .896 OPS. Those early results earned Franco a promotion to Class A Advanced Charlotte, which didn’t seem to faze 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 between the two levels.
Now that he has gone through his first full season in the Minors, Franco will shift his focus to playing for the Gigantes del Cibao (who selected him with the No. 1 overall pick in the rookie draft) for at least a month in the Dominican Winter League. After that, Franco says he’ll work with his trainers in order to put himself in a position to make an impact with the big league team in 2020.
“I’m going to work hard,” Franco said. “I’m going to work really hard for next season. My goal is to play in the big leagues next year.”
While Franco dazzled on the field, Ryan showed off his promise on the mound in 2019. 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 year to Double-A Montgomery, where he finished the season by posting a 3.38 ERA in three starts. Even at a higher level, Ryan’s strikeout rate remained impressive with 24 strikeouts over 13 1/3 innings.
Ryan credits his success to the Rays organization allowing him to work through a pitching plan that he has been working since college. Ryan was sidelined with a lat strain in college, but his 2019 season put him in the spotlight and he, too, believes he could make a run at the big leagues with a solid ‘20 campaign.
“It’s an honor to be here,” Ryan said. “It’s just a great organization to be a part of. I couldn’t be happier with how things worked out.”
The Rays also announced the Most Valuable Players of each of their Minor League affiliates: INF/P Jake Cronenworth (Triple-A Durham), RHP Josh Fleming (Double-A Montgomery), RHP Tommy Romero (Class A Advanced Charlotte), Caleb Sampen (Class A Bowling Green), SS Greg Jones (Class A Short-Season Hudson Valley), OF Diego Infante (Rookie-level Princeton), Abiezel Ramirez (Gulf Coast League Rays), INF Alfredo Balbuena (Dominican Summer League Rays 1) INF Johan Lopez (Dominican Summer League Rays 2)
Tampa Bay BBWAA Awards
On Monday, Austin Meadows and Charlie Morton were named Co-MVP of the Dom Zimmer MVP Award by the Tampa Bay chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. It’s the first time in the 22-season history of the award that it was shared between two players. Travis d’Arnaud and Tommy Pham also received votes.
“I think that’s a very fair vote,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “Both of them are very deserving of the award and I’m glad it was done that way, because I don’t think I can pick between either one of them, either.”
Brandon Lowe was the unanimous selection for Rookie of the Year amongst the voters. Nick Anderson finished in second place despite only playing half the season with the Rays. Mike Brosseau finished third, while Brendan McKay and Nate Lowe also received votes.
Kevin Kiermaier won the Paul C. Smith Champion Award, which is given to the player who best exemplifies the spirit of true professionalism on and off the field. Morton finished second and Emilio Pagan was third. Pham, Willy Adames and Avisaíl García also received votes.