MLB’s top prospect off to scorching start

Franco homers a day after collecting 3 hits

May 6th, 2021

Two games, two days closer to the Majors for .

One day after collecting a triple among his three knocks during Tuesday's season debut, MLB's top prospect added two more extra-base hits, including his first Triple-A homer in Durham's 4-0 win over Memphis. Through his first two games of 2021, Franco is 5-for-9 with four RBIs, three extra-base hits and two runs scored.

It hasn't taken Franco long to impress his new teammates and coaching staff.

"Wander always goes about his job the right way, but he had a different level of focus and intent [on Opening Night] and I saw it again today," said Bulls hitting coach Kyle Wilson. "When the lights turn on, he has an innate ability to hone in on what the task at hand is. He's really special to watch and is a magnificent talent. He's unbelievable."

Batting second in the order, the 20-year-old flied out in his first at-bat following second-ranked Rays prospect Vidal Brujan's leadoff home run. Franco pushed Durham's lead to 2-0 with a one-out double to right field off Memphis' Miles Mikolas in the third inning. Two innings later, the Dominican Republic native struck again, blasting a majestic solo homer to left-center field for his first regular-season long ball since July 16, 2019 with Charlotte in the Florida State League. Franco went down swinging in the seventh and walked in the ninth.

"I was telling the coaches just the other day that he's learned so much during his time at Spring Training and [at the alternate training site]," Wilson said. "He faced better pitchers with sharper stuff and a little more command. It gave him a good six weeks to hone in on his approach and how pitchers will attack him."

Already one of the youngest players in Triple-A, the infielder began his professional career in 2018 and has not stopped hitting since. Franco batted .327/.398/.487 with 43 extra-base hits, 82 runs and 53 RBIs across 114 contests in his first full-season campaign two years ago, earning mid-season and postseason All-Star nods. He entered Wednesday's game with a .338/.406/.527 slash line in 176 career games.

Experiencing the lows baseball inevitably deals to players is something Franco has yet to truly deal with. Now just one step away from the Majors, could it be a negative have had such an unimpeded march to The Show? Not so fast, says Wilson.

"Wander's ability to cut out distractions is remarkable. He's performed daily while being hyped as the best prospect for the last two years. I'd say he didn't perform up to his standards during Spring Training and at times at the alternate training site. Those may not be meaningful games to fans and others but they were meaningful to him, so he did experience some trouble and still got after it. He's learning to not let the pressure get to him and he's learning how to be a good teammate who plays for the name on the front of his jersey and the guys he competes with."

In addition to his first home run, Brujan reached base two other times on a single and a walk. The 23-year-old also stole his first base of the season after swiping 48 bags in 2019.

Rays No. 12 prospect Joe Ryan carried over his terrific 2019 into his first start of the year. The right-hander needed only 59 pitches (44 strikes) to get through five innings, surrendering two hits and no walks while striking out nine. Ryan posted a 1.96 ERA and placed second in the Minors with 183 strikeouts two years ago, moving across three levels.