The Tampa Bay Rays are always looking for ways to add talent to their system. The most conventional way of doing this is through signings, trades, and the draft, but there are plenty of other ways the Rays try to bring in talent. Some of these include signing players out of independent league ball and adding minor league free agents in the middle of the season. One other way they do it is through the annual minor league rule 5 draft (separate from the big league portion of the rule 5 draft). This almost always features players whose careers are going nowhere, but the Rays might have found a steal when they took pitcher Enderson Franco from the Houston Astros last offseason.
Prior to this year, Franco, a former international signee out of Venezuela, had little luster as a prospect. From 2010 to 2013 he never got out of rookie ball, and from 2011 to 2013 the lowest ERA he posted was 4.40. After he posted a 5.05 ERA at the rookie level in 2013, the Astros decided it wasn’t even worth protecting him, and the Rays decided to take a flier. This year Franco finally saw decent results, throwing to a 3.28 ERA, a 6.6 K/9, and a 1.0 BB/9 in 13 starts spanning 68.2 innings for Short Season-A Hudson Valley. He also showed enough to be ranked 14th in Baseball America’s post-season top 20 New York-Penn League prospects.
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The 21-year-old right-hander showcased solid stuff for Hudson Valley. His fastball consistently sat in the 92-96 MPH range with late, deceptive sink. At 6’2”, 170 pounds he has room to add velocity, but you do have to be a bit skeptical if he will add significant muscle to his frame given his age. His changeup is his most intriguing secondary pitch. It is consistently average at this point, but it has flashed plus potential, and Franco has the benefit of developing of developing his changeup in an organization lauded for developing the pitch. He rounds out his arsenal with a slider that is currently a tick below-average, but it could turn out to be a tick above in the future.
Best of all is that Franco has exceptional command and control. In his career he’s walked just 2.1 batters per nine innings, but he reached a whole new level this year when he posted a 1.0 mark by walking just eight batters in his 13 starts. Even if Franco never adds muscle and his stuff never fully develops, he is the type of pitcher that will get the absolute most out of what he has. But if he can develop his arsenal, all of a sudden Franco could turn out to be a legitimate prospect in the Rays’ system.
The fact that he is getting any attention whatsoever means that the Rays taking Franco in the minor league rule 5 draft has been a success. But they won’t stop there, as Franco has a chance to turn himself into an intriguing player in the system. He has the chance to have two plus pitches in his fastball and changeup and another decent pitch in his slider, and he has great command and control of all of his stuff. He remains far off from being close to making a big league impact, but as he moves to full season ball next year Enderson Franco could quickly turn himself into a prospect to watch in the Rays’ system.