Rays super-rookie Wander Franco smoked a triple off the center-field wall Monday, in the first inning of what would become a wild 11–10 comeback win in extras over the home Red Sox. The hit put Franco in line for one of those baseball “records” that’s not really a record at all, but is cool and noteworthy all the same: By reaching base in his 36th consecutive major league game, Franco joined Mickey Mantle “at the top of the list of on-base streaks by a player 20 years old or younger in the AL,” per a proud tweet from the Rays, referencing a list that, let’s be honest, absolutely does not exist. Still!
What’s cooler and way more impressive than the age thing and this whole Mickey Mantle business, to me, is that Franco has compiled his current 36-game on-base streak in remarkably few total MLB games. Franco was called up in late June, for crying out loud. He opened his MLB career by reaching base in 12 of his first 13 games. This is downright freaky: Franco has failed to get on base in a game just four times in his first 59 career games. He has exactly five times as many multi-hit games (20) as he’s had games when he’s failed to get on base. And he’s not fluking his way on base, one dying duck at a time: Franco extended the streak Monday with his first four-hit day in the Majors, the first three hits of which came against Red Sox starter and recent immaculate inning thrower Chris Sale. Franco’s added almost 70 points to his batting average since the start of the streak, and 75 points to his on-base percentage, and 117 points to his slugging percentage. Major League pitchers haven’t yet learned to pitch around Franco, but when teams get sick of this guy smacking the ball all over the place, his on-base powers could reach a terrifying new level.
It’s not just the streak. Franco has already amassed 3.0 Wins Above Replacement by Baseball Reference’s calculations, or as many as perfectly fine and good Padres second baseman Adam Frazier, who has played more than twice as many games this season. Per Jayson Stark of The Athletic—who felt comfortable declaring Franco a future Hall-of-Famer when the streak was 33 games and the bWAR was a mere 2.4—the sabermetrics put Franco in a class with names like Rogers Hornsby, Jimmie Foxx, Orlando Cepeda, and Alex Rodriguez. Once again I must reiterate that Franco has earned all this hype in just 59 career MLB games. On the one hand, this is a small sample size. On the other hand, the leap up in quality from the minors to the majors is supposed to work against this sort of impressive but unsustainable small sample size theater. Generally speaking (as Stark is quick to point out), if you batter the ball to hell across your first significant stretch facing major league pitching, it is because you kick mondo ass. Wander kicks the mondoest of asses.
I would like to pause here to admire a video of Franco socking an opposite-field dinger off of Sale one week ago, on a 94-mph heater that grazed the top corner of the strike zone. Poor Chris Sale is going to be sharing a division with this impossible lad until the day he retires from baseball.
Franco has not yet encountered a level of pitching in his baseball career that he can’t master. He hit .374 with a ridiculous 1.081 OPS in his first season of minor league baseball, as a 17-year-old, and walked more than twice as often as he struck out across two years in the minors, before an arm injury and a pandemic shut down his 2020 season. Last year FanGraphs gave Franco their first ever perfect 80 Future Value grade. In hype terms, there’s blue chip prospects, and then there is a narrow empty space of rarified air, and then there is Wander Franco.
As with every other cool player on their roster, it stinks a little that Franco is doing all this for the Tampa Bay Rays, a cheapskate organization that takes pride in winning games with the seventh-lowest team payroll in baseball, and which for all of its quirky success draws the third-lowest average attendance in the league. Maybe Franco will be the guy for whom Stuart Sternberg finally backs up the Brinks truck, and will herald an organizational shift toward paying good MLB players what they are worth, but I wouldn’t bet my own money on it. On the flip side, this means that fans of the small handful of MLB franchises that actually will spend money for wins can daydream about a plausible future when Franco might get on base for their very own team. Either way, I suggest watching the young man play baseball. He rules.