The Rays have reached agreement to sign 16-year-old Dominican shortstop Wander Samuel Franco, MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez reports (Twitter link). Franco will receive a bonus worth $3.825MM.
Franco was regarded as the top prospect in this year’s international prospect class by both MLB.com and Baseball America. Franco is a 5’10”, 170-pound switch-hitter from a baseball family — Erick Aybar is his uncle, and Franco’s two older brothers are prospects in the Royals and Astros organizations. According to BA’s scouting report (available to subscribers), Franco is described as having excellent bat control, “premium bat speed,” and an overall very polished approach to hitting for a prospect of his age, with many scouts calling him the best hitting prospect of this year’s July 2 class. Defensively, Franco seems to grade out as a sturdy but unspectacular shortstop, though his body type may require a move to second base (where he could become an above-average defender) down the road.
The Rays have long been linked to Franco, and he immediately becomes an important prospect for a team that relies so heavily on low-cost player development. Flores’ deal marks Tampa Bay’s return to July 2 prominence, as the team has been limited to signings of no more than $300K for the last two international signing periods as punishment for exceeding their draft pool in the 2014-15 market. Franco’s bonus alone accounts for a major chunk of Tampa’s $5.25MM overall draft pool, though the Rays can trade for as much as $3,937,500 in additional pool funds in deals with other teams.