A couple weeks ago I took a break from my usual schedule of covering South Atlantic League prospects and I went down to South Florida for some Florida State League action. The main attraction, currently, in the FSL is Wander Franco, as most of you are probably aware, so I was sure to make him the centerpiece of this trip. I caught two games of Wander and the Charlotte Stone Crabs as they took on the Mets’ High-A affiliate in Port St. Lucie, Florida. After that I was able to see Forrest Whitley’s second rehab start in the Gulf Coast League, followed by another FSL game that night in Jupiter between the Hammerheads (Marlins A+) and the Palm Beach Cardinals (Cardinals A+). Below is what’s in my notebook from those games along with my report on Orioles RHP Grayson Rodriguez from earlier last month. For Wander Franco, I decided to go more in depth than my usual reports, so you will notice the difference in length of that one.
Position – SS
Dates Seen – 7/17 and 7/18 in Port St. Lucie
Height – 5’10”
Weight – 189 lbs
Level – Class A-Advanced
Wander Franco is an incredibly special talent. He is the complete package, essentially everything a team is looking for in a franchise cornerstone player. Franco signed with the Rays in July of 2017, out of Bani, Dominican Republic. He was highly regarded as one of the top prospects in that international class. Last year he burst onto the minor league baseball scene with the Princeton Rays of the Appalachian League, slashing .351/.418/.587. He has continued that success in 2019 between Low-A and High-A, hitting .329/.404/.514. in 383 plate appearances.
Wander Franco is not a tall guy, listed at 5’10”, but he has a compact frame and a very muscular upper body. His body resembles that of Luis Urias, but with a bit more strength. There isn’t much room for him to fill out so I would say what you see is what you are going to get at this point as far as projection goes.
Before I get into all the great things I have to say about Wander I will touch on the one thing that concerned me in my two games of watching him. His arm is not great at shortstop. He had some issues reaching the first baseman consistently. This showed a few times during the games I saw while making throws from various spots on the field, especially when moving backward. This is something I will continue to look into going forward. If the look I got at Franco’s arm is representative of his actual arm strength then a move to second base in the future may be imminent.
Now that I got that part over with, Wander Franco is amazing. He has special talent and a skill level that doesn’t come around often. His hands are insane, he is very skilled with the bat, and you won’t see him swing and miss often. He controls the barrel very well and can hit any pitch hard wherever he wants it to go. He has a great eye and doesn’t often swing at bad pitches. However, when he does chase one out of the zone, he will probably find a way to foul it off. Franco is a switch-hitter but I was only able to see him from the left side during the games. I haven’t seen every top prospect live, but Wander Franco probably has the best hit tool of any current minor leaguer that I’ve seen in person.
Wander begins in a slightly open stance with his front heel hovering a few inches above the ground. As the pitcher begins his motion toward home plate, he lowers his hands to about chest-level with his bat sitting at around a 75° angle behind his head. Franco utilizes a high leg kick, lifting his knee up to just around his waistline. This is the point where the magic happens. As Wander’s leg begins its descent, the hands get to work. His thunderous bat whip along with tremendous momentum and torque and his aforementioned barrel control skills all contribute to his sky high offensive potential. There is unlimited possibility for what this kid can become as a major league hitter, regardless of the fact that he’s only listed at 5’10”, 189 lbs.
— Owen (@CountryRoads277) July 18, 2019
During BP, while Wander was not trying to kill the ball or try to launch every pitch to the moon, he was able to consistently spray line drives to all fields, from both sides of the plate. I would argue that Franco had a more impressive BP from the right side than from the left-handed batters box. Below is a shot of his lone home run which he used to close out his BP session. You can see how beautiful his swing is as he unloads on this baseball.
While we wait, here’s my favorite clip I got on my entire trip to Florida. Enjoy watching Wander Franco explode on a baseball and then bat flip to close out BP. This one almost soared onto one of the backfields at Mets complex #Wander #Rays #Prospects https://t.co/1vsNxVVMn3 pic.twitter.com/yGEwtryro5
— Owen (@CountryRoads277) July 20, 2019
Franco is really good in the field employing his gifted hands and athleticism. He got to every ball without a problem while sometimes putting on a show for the crowd in the process. I was impressed with his footwork moving to his left. Now it’s just a matter of what he does with the ball after receiving it that makes me skeptical about his chances of staying at short.
I’m not going to end this by saying that I was blown away by the abilities of Wander Franco. That is because my expectations were so unbelievably high before heading down to see him, due to all the hype and excitement surrounding the kid over the past 12 months or more. However, Wander, for the most part lived up to those glowing reports. I would also be remiss to not mention Franco’s joyful personality. He always seemed to be having fun and being a great teammate. He’s a guy that Rays fans should be dreaming about, but they shouldn’t have to dream for much longer.
P.S.- Unfortunately I was not able to get a full-speed home to first time for Franco. I have heard good things about his speed, but I won’t place a grade on it until I see it for myself. As long as he keeps his weight down where it currently is, his speed should be another weapon for him.
Tools with FV Grade
Hit – 70
Raw – 60
Game – 60
Speed – N/A
Defense – 60
Arm – 45
RHP Grayson Rodriguez – Delmarva Shorebirds (Orioles A) – 6’5″ 220 lbs
The Orioles selected Rodriguez with the 11th overall pick in the 2018 draft out of HS in Texas. He was known to evaluators as a big physical right hander with power stuff and a chance to start. I saw him in Lakewood on July 1st and I was intrigued by what I saw. Grayson sat 92-94 with his fastball most of the game, topping out at 96. He did a good job commanding this fastball to both sides of the plate. His slider was very effective on this night, repeatedly making hitters look foolish with wipeout action at 81-84 mph. Because the slider worked so well Rodriguez didn’t need to throw too many curveballs. Though when he did it was a decent pitch at 75-77 mph with 11 to 5 shape. He then broke out the changeup in around the 3rd inning and it was a pretty effective pitch for him that came through for him when he needed it.
Rodriguez throws from a 3/4 slot and has plenty of arm strength. At 6’5″ 220 lbs he surely “looks the part” with his combination of durability and sufficient athleticism. He doesn’t have the cleanest delivery but there’s nothing there that is in need of being sorted out immediately.
Grayson Rodriguez has a deep repertoire of four more than serviceable pitches that he can turn to for strikes and/or swings and misses. He is a very good strikethrower. I don’t know that more velocity will come for him. He may remain in the 92-94, up to 96 range, and that is certainly okay for a guy with the mix of command, overall stuff, and pitchability that Rodriguez possesses. He is a gifted and advanced arm.
Projection: No. 3 SP ceiling
C Ronaldo Hernandez – Charlotte Stone Crabs (Rays A+)
Hernandez is a talented, large-bodied catcher with potential on both sides of the ball. It seemed like he barreled up a baseball and hit it hard somewhere every at bat that I saw, and maybe he did. He doesn’t do a lot of swinging and missing. Ronaldo has a tad more bat than power but with his size, if he gets a hold of one, it’ll go places.
The Rays catching prospect has a cannon behind the plate. I saw it first-hand on a backpick where he almost caught a St. Lucie Mets base-runner napping. As far as his receiving skills behind the plate, they seemed to be improved in my recent compared to when I saw him in the Arizona Fall League last November. He’s a big dude and doesn’t move very well so that will limit him in his defensive development, he generally did a good job keeping balls in front of him and using proper catching form.
Hernandez is a legitimate top 100 prospect and yet another guy for Rays fans to watch closely in his rise through the system.
Bat – 60 Raw – 60 Game – 50 Speed – 30 Field – 55 Arm – 70
3B Nolan Gorman – Palm Beach Cardinals (Cardinals A+)
Gorman has moved along quickly thus far for a high school draft pick. The Cardinals picked him in the first round in 2018 with the 19th overall pick out of Sandra Day O’Connor HS in Phoenix, Arizona. Various pre-draft reports cited his power tool as the best in the entire class, or at least the high school class. He’s not the tallest or most intimidating guy, but Gorman has a ton of strength packed into his 6’1″ 210 lbs frame. In Gorman’s final at bat he showcased some opposite field power and loft with a well-struck double over the left fielders head.
There is certainly some swing and miss to Gorman’s approach at the plate. The Jupiter Hammerheads pitching staff threw him lots of offspeed stuff in to get those whiffs. And when they weren’t throwing the slow stuff, they tried to jam him with fastballs inside. In my one game of seeing him, he got himself quickly into an 0-2 or 1-2 hole each time at the plate. It remains to be seen if the Cardinals organization will continue to allow Gorman to develop into an all-or-nothing type hitter, or if they will opt to implement some type of a swing change to add more contact to his game while still making the most of his power.
Unfortunately I didn’t get much of a read on Gorman’s defensive skills or speed in this single-game look, but I am sure I will see him for a more extended look next February or March. I’m still deciding between putting a 60 or a 70 on his power, and I will wait until after my next time watching Gorman to make that call. We’ll go with a current 40 and future 50 on the bat.
OF Moises Gomez, Charlotte Stone Crabs (Rays A+)
Gomez has a line drive hitter but possesses homerun pop. He has a solid, accurate arm and may be able to stick in right field because of that arm even despite his large frame and somewhat limited mobility. He was able to square up fastballs but had some issues against breaking balls in my look.
OF Garrett Whitley, Charlotte Stone Crabs (Rays A+)
Whitley was the Rays first round pick in the 2015 MLB Draft but it hasn’t quite panned out for him with the bat. He is a good athlete with impressive raw power and he can go get it in the outfield. He had trouble with spin in the games that I saw. Pitchers attacked him with sliders and he couldn’t handle it. He draws some walks but the strikeout rate is just way too high (36.2%). He’s going to need to make more contact and start to finally put up offensive numbers worthy of a promotion to the upper minors. The tools are there.
RHP Forrest Whitley, GCL Astros (Astros Rookie league)
How about another Whitley? I woke up on my final day in Florida and I sent a hopeful text to a contact in the area saying “Let me know if there’s a chance that Whitley pitches today.” About an hour later my phone buzzed and the text read “He’s here and he’s throwing.” Sometimes things just work out. The Astros top prospect threw 2.2 innings in the start for that I saw for GCL Astros which was his second outing in the Gulf Coast League in his rehab from right shoulder fatigue. Whitley certainly wasn’t sharp in this outing, often missing his spots. He didn’t have much feel for his slider, and did a lot of missing up with the fastball. One plus for Astros fans is that the velo was mostly back. He sat 93-95 and he touched 96 and 97 in the first inning. Each of his four pitches showed flashes of what has made him such a highly regarded big league prospect, but the consistency just wasn’t there. Whitley will need to be better going forward than what he was in this outing. I will definitely be tracking his development as he progresses through his rehab.
— Owen (@CountryRoads277) July 20, 2019
RHP Evan Fitterer, GCL Marlins (Marlins R) – 6’3″ 195 lbs
Starting opposite Whitley was the Marlins‘ 2019 fifth round pick out of HS in California, Evan Fitterer. The recently-turned 19-year-old RHP was making his third professional outing. Fitterer was mostly in the 90-91 range on his fastball which featured plenty of cutting action. His velo numbers are down from where he was reportedly sitting in the spring but this is normal for a guy in his draft year. The breaking stuff was just okay but he’s an athlete and he can spin his fastball.