The prized gem of the 2017-18 international class, Franco signed with the Rays for $3,825,000 and immediately established himself as one of baseball's more exciting prospects in his first full season. He claimed the Rookie Appalachian League's MVP Award at age 17, posting gaudy numbers (.351/.418/.587) against significantly older competition. Franco's move up to full-season ball in 2019 came with similar eye-popping results, with the precocious teen slashing .327/.398/.487 between Class A Bowling Green and Class A Advanced Charlotte, where he was more than four years the junior compared to the circuit's average player. Franco earned his first SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game selection along the way, serving as the American League squad's leadoff hitter and starting shortstop, and the Rays unsurprisingly named him their Minor League Player of the Year after the season.
If you were to build a hitter from scratch using all of the physical attributes and skills that have come to define great hitters, he'd probably end up looking something like Franco. A switch-hitter with ridiculously strong wrists, blazing-fast bat speed and preternatural bat-to-ball skills, Franco absolutely punishes the baseball to all parts of the field from both sides, attacking pitches over the plate while also demonstrating tremendous discipline and rarely swinging and missing (4.3 percent swinging-strike rate in '19). It's why he's recorded more walks (83) than strikeouts (54) across his first two pro seasons while compiling a .336 average. Power is the one part of Franco's game that's yet to emerge in earnest, but it's easy to forecast plus power in his future as he learns to drive the ball in the air consistently and improves upon his 2019 ground-ball rate (48.8 percent). He shows more over-the-fence potential as a left-handed hitter and hit all but two of his 20 career homers from that side during his first two campaigns.
Defensively, Franco earns high marks from evaluators for his hands, range and actions as a shortstop, and he's universally praised for the confidence and leadership he exudes at the position. Franco's strong, compact build as well as the fact that he's only a slightly above-average runner have prompted questions about his ability to stick at shortstop long term, but he's passed every test early in his career, showing advanced feel for playing the position and plenty of arm strength. A shift over to second or possibly third base isn't out of the question, and it wouldn't be surprising if the Rays were to start increasing Franco's defensive versatility as they do with many of their young, athletic infielders. And while the Rays do have a history of patiently developing young talent, Franco, with his All-Star-caliber ceiling, could end up being an exception.
Scouting grades: Hit: 70 | Power: 60 | Run: 60 | Arm: 60 | Field: 50 | Overall: 70
A switch-hitting shortstop with deep baseball ties in his family, Franco ranked as MLB Pipeline's No. 2 international prospect before signing with Tampa Bay for $3,825,000 at the outset of the 2017-18 period. The Dominican Republic native made the jump stateside for his pro debut last season and promptly established himself as one of baseball's better prospects by winning the Rookie-level Appalachian League's MVP Award at age 17. Playing against considerably older competition, he produced a .351/.418/.587 line with 11 home runs in 61 games and led the circuit with 85 hits and 57 RBIs.
Franco's robust production during his pro debut reflects his high offensive ceiling. He consistently impacts the baseball from both sides of the plate, showing a combination of bat speed, strong wrists/hands and elite bat-to-ball skills that leads some scouts to project him as a plus-plus hitter. He should offer above-average over-the-fence power, too, especially from the left side of the plate, from where he hit all but one of his home runs in 2018. Franco's approach, much like his physical tools, is advanced beyond his years, and he receives raves for his ability to recognize spin and control the zone.
In the field, Franco has impressed evaluators with his hands, range and actions at shortstop, not to mention the high level of confidence he exudes. He could outgrow the position and shift over to second or possibly third base, though such a move would do little to detract from his All-Star-caliber ceiling. While the Rays have historically employed a patient approach in developing young talent, Franco could be the rare exception, as many have already identified him as the next teenage wunderkind to reach the Major Leagues.
Scouting grades: Hit: 55 | Power: 55 | Run: 60 | Arm: 55 | Field: 50 | Overall: 60
Ranked as MLBPipeline.com's No. 2 prospect for the 2017-18 international signing period, Franco has deep family ties to baseball. His father, Wander, played professionally, and he has a pair of older brothers currently in the Giants' and Astros' systems. He's also the nephew of Padres shortstop Erick Aybar. However, it was the teenager's high ceiling as a switch-hitting shortstop that netted him a $3,825,000 signing bonus from Tampa Bay when the international signing period opened on July 2. The deal is already looking like a steal for the Rays after Franco dazzled with his hitting ability during his pro debut as a 17-year-old in the Rookie-level Appalachian League.
The Dominican Republic native has impact potential offensively. With his combination of bat speed, strong wrists and feel for manipulating the barrel, Franco knows how to generate hard contact from both sides of the plate, with enough speed to hit atop a lineup and enough power to serve as a middle-of-the-order force. Those qualities should enable Franco to hit for a high average, and with considerable physical development ahead of him, he's merely scraping the surface of his power potential.
Franco also impresses in the field, earning plaudits from evaluators for his hands, range and actions at shortstop, not to mention a high level of confidence that belies his age. Some evaluators do believe he'll ultimately outgrow the position and shift over to second base, though such a move would do little to detract from his overall upside.
Scouting grades: Hit: 55 | Power: 50 | Run: 60 | Arm: 55 | Field: 50 | Overall: 50
Ranked as MLBPipeline.com's No. 2 prospect for the 2017-18 international signing period, Franco has deep family ties to baseball. His father, Wander, played professionally, and he has a pair of older brothers currently in the Giants' and Astros' systems. He's also the nephew of Padres shortstop Erick Aybar. However, it was the teenager's high ceiling as a switch-hitting shortstop that netted him a $3,825,000 signing bonus from Tampa Bay when the international signing period opened on July 2.
The Dominican Republic native has impact potential offensively. With his combination of bat speed and feel for manipulating the barrel, Franco knows how to generate hard contact from both sides of the plate, with plus speed that could land him at the top of the batting order. And while he may never offer more than average power, Franco, at age 16, still has considering physical development ahead of him.