The 2022 season was a frustrating one for Tampa Bay Rays’ shortstop Wander Franco. After a promising 2021 debut where he slashed .288/.347/.463 In 70 games as a 20-year-old, Franco took several huge steps backward and slipped down fantasy baseball rankings due to a variety of injuries last year. As lingering quad issues have started to surface again in recent days, Franco is racing against the clock with MLB Opening Day right around the corner. The Rays' talented shortstop is trying to prove not only that he will be healthy for the 2023 fantasy baseball season, but also that he should not be cloaked in the dreaded “injury-prone” label so early in his career. What should we expect in this from Wander Franco as a shortstop in our fantasy baseball lineups? Let’s dive into the numbers to see what a healthy next six months look like for Franco if he stays off the MLB injury report.
Wander Franco's Injuries in 2022 Sapped His Power and Speed
There were two separate significant injuries that Franco battled in 2022. The first was a quadriceps strain that lingered for long periods of time that hampered much of his speed. The second injury occurred in July when he was hit on the wrist by a pitch, breaking his hamate bone. That injury required surgery and then after a setback, he was only able to play four games in June, nine in July, and none in August.
By the time he was healthy and made it back for 25 games in September and October, he was able to finish with a strong .322/.381/.471 slash line in that last month. But it wasn’t enough to significantly raise what would become an otherwise disappointing .277/.328/.417 year.
People think of Franco as a contact and average guy first and foremost, but we often forget the power and speed combination he displayed in the minors. He slugged over .500 at four different stops in the minor leagues, but he never stayed at any one spot long enough to accumulate massive home run numbers.
The same thing was true with stolen bases. Franco had the 15th-highest sprint speed of any shortstop in 2021 when he was healthy. Last season, that number fell to 31st at the position. Franco stole 27 bases in 215 Minor League games before his big-league debut so the speed opportunity is there, especially with the new rules in 2023.
It’s crazy to think, but before 2022, Franco never played more than 70 games in any one location in his professional career. That’s how good he was in the minors, and he sped through every level on a fast track to a 20-year-old debut season.
Franco Never Lost His Elite Contact Ability
We might think that with all of the adversity and injury he faced in 2022 that Franco would have lost some of the elite skills that made him one of the premier prospects of the last generation. But in reality, that’s not what happened at all.
When Franco was able to play in 2022, he maintained a truly elite batting approach that allowed him to avoid strikeouts, make good contact, and not waste pitches. Among players with at least 300 plate appearances last season, Franco was top-five in best strikeout rate, zone contact rate, and called strike + swinging strike rate (CSW%). In fact, only Kyle Tucker and Jeff McNeil – two of the best contact hitters in the game – had a better CSW% than Franco.
Only Luis Arraez, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Steven Kwan, and Miguel Rojas had a better contact rate in the zone. This is a player who simply does not get fooled at the plate, and that is an incredible skill for a 21-year-old to display. Is the average age of the four guys better than his zone contact rate? 27.8 years old.
The injuries did do a number on his barrel rate and exit velocity last season, Franco’s expected stats show the potential for a much better.277/.328/.417, however. Baseball Savant lists him with a .285 expected batting average.
Considering all that happened to him last season, we should remain very encouraged that this plate approach remained elite and that he was able to end the season on such a strong note in September and October.
Wander Franco 2023 Fantasy Baseball Expectations
The last week of news has not been what Franco wanted to start his 2023 campaign. He has been dealing with what he and the team describe as quadriceps “tightness” and not a strain similar to what he had in 2022. But anything that looks like it could be recurring after all of his battles in 2022 is a red flag.
Both sides remain optimistic he will be in the Opening Day lineup, so we should then presume to look at what he could provide if Franco is able to give fantasy managers 135+ games this year.
Most projection systems give right about 140-144 games this season. I might scale that back 10 games, especially if Tampa Bay ends up not competing for a Wild Card spot. But we can reasonably assume 130-140 games for the organization’s prized player. Those same systems all agree that a campaign with about 15 home runs and 12 stolen bases with a .285/.340/.450 slash line is incoming.
Currently, Franco is being drafted around pick 81 in NFBC drafts since the beginning of March. That puts him as the 10th shortstop off the board, just after Dansby Swanson and just before Tim Anderson. Those are good comparisons for Franco right now because they both do a little bit of everything well but also have some serious question marks.
But if you’re asking me to pick who among those could rise to the fourth or fifth round in 2024, I would pick Franco. Considering his track record, his plate approach, and his power/speed combo, a .300/20/15 season would not surprise me one bit.
In the recent Fantasy Alarm staff predictions, I chose Franco to be the player to hit .300 who never had before, so I am all in on this being a breakout season.
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