Will Rays' Franco be better than Indians' Lindor?

November 27th, 2019

I'm working diligently on the MLB Pipeline Draft Top 100 (double the size of our usual Draft Top 50 this time of year, scheduled for release late next week) and Thursday's feast, so let's get right to your questions. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

I share Sevas' enthusiasm for this question and look at it in two different ways.

If you compare them when Lindor was coming off his age-18 season like Franco is now, Franco clearly is the better prospect. Lindor hit .257/.352/.355 with six homers and 27 steals in low Class A, while Franco batted .327/.398/.487 with nine homers and 18 steals between low Class A and high Class A. Franco is regarded as a slightly better hitter with a lot more power and a step more speed at the same stage of their careers, though Lindor was an obviously superior defender and there's some thought that Franco could outgrow shortstop.

However, not all prospects develop in identical fashion. Lindor totaled 21 homers in 416 Minor League games on his way to Cleveland, never hitting more than six in a single year. He has slammed 33, 38 and 32 in the last three seasons, exhibiting power that neither the Indians nor anyone else imagined he would develop. If Franco exceeds his power projection as much as Lindor did, he'll be hitting 45-50 homers on an annual basis for the Rays.

While Franco showed more upside at the same age and currently ranks as baseball's best prospect, Lindor is a perennial All-Star and 30-homer guy who has won multiple Gold Gloves at shortstop. I can't say Franco will be better than that, but I'll set the bar very high and say the guy I'll keep calling Vladimir Guerrero III will be as good as Lindor (albeit creating his value with more offense and less defense).

It's hard enough to rank entire farm systems. I always joke that whenever we do so at MLB Pipeline, we make one team happy and 29 others think we've rated them too low. Now we're raising the degree of difficulty, but I'm game.

Based on our current organization Top 30 Prospects lists -- which were mostly compiled in July -- the Rays have the best farm system once you eliminate everyone's 10 best prospects from consideration. When we last ranked entire systems following the Trade Deadline, Tampa Bay came in at No. 2 and trailed only the Padres.

The Rays have several interesting prospect beyond their Top 10. Among position players, outfielder Josh Lowe displayed an improving bat and three plus tools (speed, defense, arm), outfielders Moises Gomez and Nick Schnell could have average to solid tools across the board, and shortstop Jake Cronenworth posted a .949 OPS in Triple-A while pumping mid-90s fastballs with intriguing secondary stuff as a two-way player. Among pitchers, right-hander Joe Ryan has an invisible fastball that helped him lead the Minors in strikeout percentage (38 percent) and WHIP (0.84) in his first full pro season, 2019 supplemental first-round righty Seth Johnson can reach 98 mph and flash a plus slider, and 2019 second-rounder John Doxakis has solid stuff that plays up with his pitchability.

I could go on, but suffice it to say that the Rays are loaded beyond Franco, left-hander Brendan McKay and their other four Top 100 Prospects. Other organizations with admirable Minor League depth include the Padres, Rangers, Twins and Yankees.

Right-hander Jonathan Stiever is the White Sox's best pitching prospect who didn't miss the 2019 season following Tommy John surgery, yet he hasn't attracted a lot of attention. He also was underrated as a Draft prospect in 2018, when his stuff dipped late in his junior season at Indiana and some clubs had concerns about the health of his back, allowing Chicago to grab him in the fifth round.

Stiever's velocity has improved since he turned pro, and he now deals with a 92-96 mph four-seam fastball that peaks at 98. It pairs well with his spike curveball, and he also has a harder slider and a developing changeup. He logged a 3.48 ERA with a 154/27 K/BB ratio in 145 innings at two Class A levels in his first full pro season and could move quickly through the upper Minors.