Daily Prospect Notes: Wander Franco Edition

Because there are so few minor league baseball games on Mondays this year, you’ll see me play with the format of the Tuesday Daily Prospect Notes. I’m lucky that the top prospect in the sport, 20-year-old Tampa Bay Rays infielder Wander Franco, is likely to debut against the Red Sox this evening. The Franco report from the Rays/Top 100 lists still applies, and folks looking for a general overview of his talent should go jam on the clipboard here and read that if you haven’t already done so. Today I’m going to be breaking down his 2021 season using Synergy Baseball, a pitch-by-pitch video software program that is often used by MLB teams.

We made a decision to allocate scouting travel budget toward Synergy Baseball during the offseason, when the timeline for vaccines was still hazy but the presence of COVID was not. Unsure if/how much I’d be travelling again this year, we funneled money into Synergy in case I could not. It was initially useful for watching action in foreign pro leagues and during Spring Training as I worked on prospect lists, but Kevin Goldstein and I also have access to pitch-by-pitch video from Triple-A games (not the whole minors, just Triple-A), as well as metadata from each pitch. I can’t share video with you here (or anywhere) or I’d be in violation of MiLB.tv terms of service, but I can share with you some of the Franco metadata to illustrate the specific nature of his skills and put them in a big league context.

Here’s an example. Franco has seen 639 pitches at Triple-A Durham this year and has swung and missed at just 46 of those, which means he has a 7.2% swinging-strike rate this season. That’s 49th among all qualified minor leaguers and third in the minors among hitters age 20 or younger. But Franco is one of only three hitters his age who have played above A-ball, and the other two (Riley Greene and CJ Abrams, both at Double-A) aren’t in Franco’s SwStr% neighborhood; both are north of 12%. Franco is so hard to make swing and miss that his current rate would already put him among the top twenty qualified big leaguers this season, and his career rate (which is closer to 5%, 36th among all minor leaguers since 2018) puts him in the top ten.

According to Synergy (which applies to most of the stats I’ll reference from here on), of the 43 swings and misses Franco has put on tape so far this year, 29 have been on pitches in the bottom third of or below the zone. When you break the whiffs down by the handedness, most of his lefty whiffs are coming on changeups or splitters, his righty ones on backfoot breaking balls. Orioles righty Mac Sceroler is the only pitcher to get Franco to swing and miss three times in a game, all of which came via his splitter. That’s not to say these are vulnerabilities, just where you have the best chance to get him to whiff.

Franco also has a 3-to-1 ball-in-play-to-swinging-strike ratio with Durham. Only thirteen qualified big league hitters have ratios that strong (by my math, David Fletcher leads at 6-to-1, followed by Kevin Newman at 5-to-1, Michael Brantley at 4-to-1, and Yuli GurrielJake Cronenworth, Adam Frazier, Myles Straw, Whit Merrifield, Tommy Edman, Alex Verdugo, Raimel Tapia, and DJ LeMahieu all crammed in the 3- to 3.8-to-1 range), and he exhibits roughly that ratio across all pitch types. Again per Synergy, Franco has a 94% Z-Contact%, which would be top five in baseball, and a 28% O-Swing% that would be three percentage points better than MLB average.

If there’s a piece of this puzzle that remains unknown, it’s how Franco will fare against big league velocity. Per Synergy, opposing pitchers’ fastballs have only averaged 91 mph against him, a full two and a half ticks slower than that average big league heater. He’s only seen 39 fastballs at or above 93 mph this year, and I don’t think that’s enough to glean anything legitimate. It’s perhaps worth noting that Franco has either taken those pitches or fouled them off; he’s only put two of them in play. What’s interesting about him versus fastballs, generally, is that he is much less apt to chase them than he is other types of pitches; his O-Swing% against fastballs is only 14%, compared to 28% overall.

Most of this just jibes with and reinforces the visual scouting report, especially when you remind yourself that it’s a 20-year-old generating these rate stats at Triple-A. This is a remarkable bat-to-ball prospect who also happens to have relevant power while occupying a valuable spot on the defensive spectrum. It’s not possible to gauge what will happen when Franco has to stand in against Michael Kopech or Aroldis Chapman, or someone who throws as hard as they do just about every night. It’s ironic that a player who has been famous and lauded by the scouting community since he was fourteen and who has performed at an elite statistical level without fail still has something specific, but relevant, to prove.





Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.

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sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

It is extremely exciting to have such a unique prospect making his MLB debut. He has truly extraordinary plate discipline and a fair amount of power. I know Eric has concerns about him sliding down the defensive spectrum, but St. Louis seems optimistic he will remain in the corner outfield. Plus, how many prospects have a name like Lars Nootbaar?

theopener
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theopener

Wrong article?

Sooted72
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Sooted72

fail?

asaw780
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asaw780

“Lars Nootbaar” is a European chocolate candy and I won’t be convinced otherwise

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

The name “Lars Nootbaar” oozes European sophistication. If he lives up to his top prospect billing, he’s going to follow in Reggie Jackson’s footsteps and get his own line.

techzero
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techzero

What if I told you his name was Lars Taylor Tatsuji Nootbaar?

EDIT: Ooops, Left of Centerfield beat me to it.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

That’s a lot to put on a wrapper. Probably just “Nootbaar” would do it.

I can even imagine what it would taste like.

Pirates Hurdles
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Pirates Hurdles

Probably an attempt at humor as Lars was called up today as well?

Francoeurstein
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Francoeurstein

I lolled not gonna lie.

Left of Centerfield
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Left of Centerfield

Meh, Lars Nootbaar is kind of boring for a name. I think announcers should be required to refer to him by his full name: Lars Taylor Tatsuji Nootbaar.

TwinPeaks
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TwinPeaks

Can’t wait for the Nootbaar era to begin! That Wander guy might be pretty good too!

Left of Centerfield
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Left of Centerfield

And Lars Taylor Tatsuji Nootbaar delivered!!! Drove in one of the Cardinals two runs last night in a 2-8 loss to the Tigers. Let the candy manufacturing begin!!!

TwinPeaks
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TwinPeaks

It’s early, but Nootbaar is leading Wander in both triples and sacrifice flies!