Yesterday’s prospect faceoff post featured two fairly similar youngsters: upper-level left-handed hurlers MacKenzie Gore and Jesus Luzardo. Today, we’ll examine another duo with a lot of commonalities … but they won’t be quite so closely situated.
Glance up at the top ten list of most prospect rankings and you’ll see two middle infielders: Wander Franco of the Rays and Gavin Lux of the Dodgers. MLB.com and Fangraphs rank them 1-2. They share many attributes beyond position and lofty prospect standing. But these two players also present completely different propositions.
Franco is more or less universally considered the game’s very best prospect. But he also just turned 19 on March 1st and hasn’t yet played above the High-A level. In his two A-ball stops last year, the switch-hitter carried a collective .327/.398/.487 batting line with nine long balls over 495 plate appearances. He swiped 18 bags but was also gunned down 14 times.
This is not a complete product. There are some questions as to whether Franco will stick at shortstop, though he has thus far proven capable. More importantly, perhaps, is the fact that his power is still more a projection than a present skill. But the scouts see the potential in his actions at the plate. And Franco seems quite likely to maximize whatever raw power he ends up with given his exceptional plate discipline and contact ability. Franco recorded 56 walks against just 35 strikeouts last year while driving the ball around the yard. Though he hardly carries a big frame, Franco is said to carry immense wrist strength and bat speed. And his command of the zone will make him awfully tough to pitch to.
Do you feel like you need some precedent to believe a player can convert plate discipline and less-than-imposing physical stature? How about Lux? He didn’t put a single ball over the fence in 253 rookie ball plate appearances, then managed only seven dingers in 501 trips to the dish at the Class A level. But last year, Lux produced 26 long balls in his 523 upper-minors plate appearances.
Lux never quite matched Franco’s ludicrous K/BB numbers. But he’s not easy to retire on strikes, knows how to draw a walk, and features a blend of power and average. Last year’s minor-league slash line: .347/.421/.607. That’ll play, particularly for a guy known as a quality baserunner and fielder. What of the notorious PCL offensive inflation? Lux exploded with a 188 wRC+ in Triple-A, so the numbers stand out even against a high mean. While Lux may end up playing second base with the powerhouse Dodgers, he’s generally considered capable of holding down shortstop in the majors.
And here’s the thing about Lux: he has already reached and shown he can hang at the game’s highest level. He didn’t exactly take the league by storm when he arrived late in 2019. But Lux produced a .240/.305/.400 slash in 82 plate appearances. And he was trusted with a postseason roster spot. It remains to be seen whether Lux will be a perennial All-Star or something less, but when it comes to getting value from a guy, he’s about as sure a thing as a prospect can be.
In this case, there’s probably not much question that Franco has the loftier ceiling. And we have seen players shoot up from the lower minors into the majors rather quickly, so he may not be far off from a debut if he terrorizes the upper minors as expected. But there’s inherently much more risk in such a player than in Lux, who’s ready to slot in as a MLB regular as soon as this season finally gets underway. Particularly if you’re somewhat risk-averse and/or need immediate contributions in the majors, perhaps Lux is actually the better bet.
Which prospect would you prefer to have? (Poll link for app users.)