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Projecting Wander Franco: 2022 Edition

Likely to be the face of Major League Baseball for the next decade and beyond, Wander Franco is ubiquitous. He has been the talk of fantasy leagues for years, particularly in dynasty formats, but even redraft fantasy players began dreaming on a Franco call-up as early as 2020. I detailed much of this in a November 23, 2020 piece, Projecting 2021: Wander Franco Edition!, in which the biggest question was when will the call come? I predicted a mid-June call-up and 350 plate appearances with the following projection:

Actual line: 308 PA, 281 AB, 53 R, 7 HR, 39 RBI, 2 SB, .288 BA.

Pretty much nailed it aside from the stolen bases.

But what now? The big question is no longer when will he play, but, rather, what will Wander Franco do in a full season at age 21? People love to extrapolate, but simply doubling his 2021 season would not do him justice.

If you break out Wander Franco's debut season by monthly splits, you can see that he started out slow, adjusted quickly, and finished the season as a standout bat just like he was at every level of the minors. Start with batting average:

Wander Franco never hit below .313 in the minor leagues. At age 20, it took him two months to get there, and by the end of the season he was raking as though he was still hitting minor league pitching.

I included the BABIP splits so you can see that there are no wild swings. 100 points from June to July is a jump, but his batting average increased by over 60 points in that same period. His BABIP rose steadily right along with the batting average.

What about slugging percentage? Up, up, and away:

What about OPS? Take a look:

Nothing to see here. Move along!

Wander Franco had a wRC+ in the 150s at every single stop in the minor leagues. How did he do in the majors? You guessed it:

It essentially took 20-year old Wander Franco two months to reach his professional baseline of 50% better than league average. If you were to look at qualified batters, only three players had a wRC+ higher than 157 on the season: Bryce Harper, Vladimir Guerrer Jr., and Juan Soto.

Aside from 180 plate appearances at AAA (his shortest MiLB stop), Wander Franco walked more than he struck out throughout his professional career. By the end of August, he was there in the majors:

Obviously, monthly samples are small samples, and some of Wander Franco's monthly samples in 2021 were smaller than others (He played in only 8 MLB games in June and only 16 in September and October). However, the totality of his 308 MLB plate appearances is not insignificant. The purpose showing these monthly splits is to frame my approach to projecting him for 2022. For most players, I do not look too far beyond the season-long samples. I understand that players have hot and cold streaks, and roll them all into the larger sample.

For a 20-year old Wander Franco making his MLB debut, these monthly splits, for me, tell a bigger story. Across the board, the trend shows a player who briefly struggled, adjusted, and within a few months looked like the elite player he had been throughout the minor leagues. I am going to give greater weight to those final months more than I typically would when looking at a season, at least in the batting average department. I would be shocked if Wander Franco hit below .300 in 2022.

The real questions now are how much speed and power will Wander Franco show in 2022?

Start with the speed. Despite 85th percentile sprint speed (according to Savant) Wander Franco has never produced significant stolen bases, and he has a terrible success rate. His best season in terms of speed was 2019 when he stole 18 bases in just short of 500 plate appearances across two levels (A, A+), but he was also caught 14 times. Franco stole only two bases in the majors in 2021, but he swiped another 5 in AAA for a total of 7. He was also caught 5 times. Given his baseball acumen, I can see him learning to be smarter on the basepaths. He also has youth on his side. Those factors bode well, but it's difficult to see Wander Franco grow into a major stolen base threat. I would put double digit steals within the realistic range of outcomes, but it would be at the high end of a projection. I'm far more confident projecting 6 or 7 in 650 plate appearances.

Now let us look at the power. Like his speed, Wander Franco never produced big power numbers in the minor leagues. His only double-digit home run season came at Rookie ball in 2018 (11 HR in 273 PA), so his major league equivalents are not favorable in the power department. Still, we never got a look at him in 2020, and in 2021, Franco hit 16 home runs in 507 plate appearances spread across AAA (7), MLB regular season (7), and MLB playoffs (2). That all suggests that that 20 home runs are within reach.

I have already heard analysts and experts say that they don't want to "miss out" on Franco's big breakout, like they did with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in 2021.

It is true that Wander will likely develop more power, but I view the two players quite differently at this point in their careers. Heading into 2021, Vlad's underlying skills were screaming "big power." In 2020, Vlad ranked the following:

  • 14th in Hard Hit Rate (50.8%)

  • 13th in Exit Velocity (92.5 mph)

  • 3rd in Max Exit Velocity (116.1 mph)

A groundball rate of 54.6% masked Vlad's power, but his league-leading Statcast metrics clearly showed the imminent power breakout. None of Wander Franco's Statcast metrics suggest a similar breakout. However, he does have decent company. His hard hit rate of 37.6% is identical to that of Austin Meadows, and slightly better than both Nolan Arenado and Ozzie Albies. His Max exit velocity of 109.6 mph is slightly better than Marcus Semien (109.5 mph). The tools are there to take a step forward in the power department and it would not be shocking to see a 20+ HR season. I am hedging and projecting 19, which still leaves room for growth without raising the price tag too high.

Here is what I am projecting from Wander Franco for 2022:

For me, that's a third round pick with the potential to produce first round value.


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Jan 03, 2022

Fantastic, in-depth article! A pleasure to read, thank you Russell! I think your projection is spot on.

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