Landing spot of Wander HR? We're not sure

March 3rd, 2021

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- If you’re wondering what all the Wander Franco hype is about, he gave a pretty good indication on Wednesday afternoon.

Two days after turning 20 years old, baseball’s top prospect launched a titanic home run well beyond the right-field fence and the neighboring boardwalk at Charlotte Sports Park. The ball traveled so high and far that it was nearly impossible to track, leading to plenty of guesses about where it actually landed.

“That one went into the parking lot, I think,” Franco said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “Everyone’s saying that it went over the building. I didn’t see it.”

It likely touched down on the roof of the Rays’ office building out in right field, but a Rays employee scanned the roof and found no evidence of the home run. So, indeed, it may have cleared the building. Rays manager Kevin Cash probably settled on the safest, most accurate answer: “Went a long way.”

Wherever it landed, Franco said he couldn’t recall ever hitting a ball that far in a game. Hitting the ball that hard, he said, made him feel like the Hulk.

“That was sweet. His swing is so easy. It’s like he’s not even trying out there,” Rays outfielder Austin Meadows, who also homered Wednesday, said during an in-game interview with FOX Sports Sun. “He’s just so good. He’s got a lot of talent. It’s fun to watch him play, so hopefully we’ll see him up in Tampa soon.”

After going hitless in his first five at-bats of the spring, the switch-hitting Franco -- batting left-handed -- unloaded on the first pitch he saw from right-hander Miguel Yajure in the second inning of the Rays’ 3-1, six-inning win over the Pirates. Franco took a few steps out of the batter’s box, tossed his bat aside with his right hand then pointed into the Rays’ dugout as he rounded the bases.

Yajure took a stroll around the mound, but the rest of Pittsburgh’s fielders barely moved.

“It feels really good. Thank God I had that opportunity to go out there,” he said. “I know I haven’t been doing too well the last few at-bats recently, but I’m glad that finally came out my way.”

Pitcher Adrian De Horta burst into the Rays' clubhouse to tell left-hander Shane McClanahan that Franco had just homered. McClanahan initially figured it was no big deal -- “just doing what Wander does,” as he put it afterward.

Then he saw the replay.

“Oh my God, that thing went over the building. You don’t see that,” McClanahan said. “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.”

The expectations are sky-high for Franco even though he only just turned 20 and hasn’t played a game above the Class A Advanced level. The uber-prospect won’t break camp with the Rays, but it’s certainly possible he'll reach the Majors this season. Franco himself said he wants to play in the big leagues this year.

That’s how skilled he is, especially at the plate. MLB Pipeline has given him an 80-grade hit tool, which ranks at the absolute top of the scouting scale. Talk to enough people about Franco and you’ll hear most of them summarize his ability like pitching prospect Shane Baz did recently: “Obviously, the bat speaks for itself.”

“He can hit. A tough guy to get uncomfortable at the plate and a tough guy to get off timing,” Baz added. “So, that's what usually makes a really good hitter.”

Rays catcher Mike Zunino said he has been impressed by Franco’s presence in the batter’s box. Franco faced high-level pitching as a 19-year-old working out at Tampa Bay’s alternate training site last summer, but he has never seemed rattled by the big league-caliber arms he has gone up against.

And it’s not just Franco's power potential that impresses his teammates, of course. Franco reached on an opposite-field single in the sixth inning Wednesday, and he recorded more walks (83) than strikeouts (54) during his first two seasons in the Minors. McClanahan recalled a two-week stretch in the Minors when Franco didn’t swing and miss a single time.

“The way he bats, he’s got such quick hands, sometimes I think he's not even human,” fellow top prospect Vidal Bruján said Wednesday morning. “But the way he's poised at the plate and how he handles his at-bats is impressive.”

“Just for him being so young and seeing the feel he has for the strike zone and for his ability to just to put the bat on the ball, it's really impressive,” Zunino added. “He really has a bright future ahead of him.”