Wander Franco will make his long-awaited MLB debut for the Rays today.
Well, “long-awaited” is a relative term, I guess. Franco’s just 20 years old, but we’ve heard about him as a prospect for years (thanks, Baseball America!). He’s been ranked as BA’s No. 1 prospect heading into the 2020 and 2021 seasons — Bryce Harper and Andruw Jones were the only other two-timers since BA started putting out the list in 1990.
In 39 games at Triple-A this season, the switch-hitting shortstop is batting .315 with a .954 OPS, seven homers, 11 doubles, six triples and five stolen bases. Great stuff.
But what type of reasonable expectations should we have? Let’s take a look at the production of recent prospects in similar situations.
Since 2010, seven players have been ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 by Baseball America and made their MLB debuts at Age 19 or 20. It’s quite the list.
No. 1 pre-2010, 20 years old
First 30 games (2010): .301/.431/.613, 1.044 OPS, 8 HR, 28 RBI, 5 2B, 2 SB
First full season (2010): .277/.393/.456, 131 OPS+, 18 HR, 72 RBI, 29 2B, 11 SB, 6.4 bWAR
Notable: Heyward’s MLB debut was an all-timer. No Atlanta fan will ever forget that first-AB home run off Carlos Zambrano — it made our list of incredible debut homers — and he looked like a future MVP that entire rookie year. He’s had a fine career, but never quite lived up to the expectations he set that first season. Let’s put it this way: He had a 6.4 bWAR that rookie year, in 142 games. In his six seasons with the Cubs (644 games), his combined bWAR is only 9.2. Good player, but never a superstar.
No. 2 pre-2011, 19 years old
First 40 games (2011): .220/.281/.390, 81 OPS+, 5 HR, 16 RBI, 4 SB, 0.5 bWAR
First full season (2012): .326/.399/.564, 168 OPS+, 30 HR, 83 RBI, 49 SB, 10.5 bWAR
Notable: Trout was the No. 2 prospect heading into the 2011 season, but actually dropped to No. 3 before the next year, behind Bryce Harper (who was No. 1 in 2011, too) and Matt Moore. Yu Darvish was No. 4. Turns out, that so-so first experience in the bigs wasn’t exactly a sign of things to come for Trout. In his nine seasons in the bigs, he’s finished first or second in the AL MVP voting seven times; his WORST showing was his fifth-place finish in 2020. That’s all-time stuff.
No. 1 pre-2012, 19 years old
First 30 games (2012): .274/.357/.504, .861 OPS, 4 HR, 4 3B, 6 2B, 11 RBI
First full season (2012): 139 G, .270/.340/.477, 118 OPS+ 22 HR, 26 2B, 9 3B, 59 RBI, 18 SB, 5.2 bWAR
Notable: I mean, Harper had his first Sports Illustrated cover story with the headline “Chosen One” when he was 16 years old. The hype was incredible. He hit the ground running in the bigs, pounding out four doubles in his first five games in the majors. He won the NL Rookie of the Year award at 19, then won the MVP at 22. Impressive.
No. 1 pre-2013, 20 years old
First 9 games (2012): .176/.176/471, 1 HR, 2 2B, 2 RBI
First full season (2013): 85 G, .234/.308/.336, 77 OPS+, 6 HR, 26 RBI, 0.1 bWAR
Notable: Profar was the youngest player in the bigs when he made his debut, and what a debut it was. Profar hit a homer in his first MLB at-bat, then doubled the second time he came to the plate. It was storybook. But so much of his story has been about injuries, especially the shoulder troubles that kept him out of the majors in 2014 and 2015. He’s become a solid player, with back-to-back 20-homer seasons in 2018-19, and now he’s a big part of the Padres’ success.
Ronald Acuña, Jr.
No. 1 pre-2018, 20 years old
First 30 games (2018): .256/.321/.438, .759 OPS, 5 HR, 13 RBI, 7 2B, 2 SB
First full season (2018): 111 G, .293/.366/.552, 143 OPS+, 26 HR, 64 RBI, 26 2B, 16 SB, 3.9 bWAR
Notable: Acuña took the bigs by storm; in his first eight games, he had seven extra-base hits — five doubles and two homers — and batted .382. He’s become a legit superstar, and he’s been pretty much the lone Braves bright spot in 2021; in 67 games, he has 20 homers, 15 stolen bases and a 2.9 bWAR.
Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.
No. 1 pre-2019, 20 years old
First 30 games (2019): .248/.320/.460, .789 OPS, 6 HR, 12 RBI, 6 2B
First full season (2019): 123 G, .272/.339/.433, 106 OPS+, 15 HR, 69 RBI, 26 2B, 2.1 bWAR
Notable: The hype on Vladdy Jr. was incredible. Hall of Fame father. Prodigious power. Star presence. It’s hard to believe he’s still only 22. His first two seasons in the bigs were solid, especially considering how young he was. And in 2021, he’s delivering on all that potential and promise, putting together a monster season.
Fernando Tatis, Jr.
No. 2 pre-2019, 20 years old
First 30 games (2019): .318/.383/.579, .963 OPS, 7 HR, 15 RBI, 7 SB
First full season (2019): 84 G, .317/.379/.590, 154 OPS+, 22 HR, 53 RBI, 16 SB, 4.2 bWAR
Notable: White Sox fans will never forget the James Shields trade. The Padres made the decision to start Tatis in the bigs, rather than keeping him down for service time/free agent reasons, and they were immediately rewarded with production from their young star that’s never really stopped, except for injury issues he’s had.
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