Left-hander Shane McClanahan was selected in 2018 by Baseball America with having the best fastball in the Rays organization. Sun Photo BEN BAUGH

"He can really hit."

Those were the words used by Mitch Lukevics, the Rays director of minor league operations, in describing the team's no. 1 prospect.

"There are not many players that I've come across in my career that can hit like Wander Franco, especially at a young age," said Lukevics. "He has a really good bat-to-ball ratio. He just has the ability to hit a baseball. It's special."

Luckevics description of Franco's contact rate as "Off the Charts" served as a compelling narrative about the 2018 Appalachian League Player of the Year.

"His power's going to get better because he's going to get stronger and more mature," said Lukevics about the 18-year-old shortstop. "He's a very unique player."

The Rays work closely with their younger players in their system, providing them with the opportunity to learn about life skills, receive language training, how to act, how not to act and about laws, said Lukevics.

"He's a fairly mature young man for his age," said Lukevics.

As Franco advances up the levels, his understanding of the strike zone will improve and he will see better pitches as time goes on, said Lukevics.

Franco's uncles are current major leaguer Erick Aybar and former major leaguer Willy Aybar, and his two older brothers are currently minor leaguers and his father played in the White Sox system.

"Having them around has definitely provided me with a lot of support and encouragement," said Franco, through a translator. "They have a lot more experience in baseball than I have, so that helps. They give me a lot of advice. They're always around to support me at all times."

The hitter renowned for his strike-zone judgement is an example in humility and appreciates the opportunity to play at the professional level.

"It's definitely a blessing," said Franco. "Not a lot of kids my age are doing what I'm doing, and I'm very proud of the success I've had."

Former Stone Crabs and Florida League all-stars Lucius Fox and Jesus Sanchez made a powerful impression while playing in Port Charlotte and have moved on to the next level, and are two players who bear watching in 2019.

"Lucius Fox has grown up tremendously since he's come here too," said Lukevics. "He was skinny and not a lot of strength...and with him having that experience in that more advanced league (Arizona Fall League), I think I'm seeing some nice signs of that here, where in the big leagues 'You fit right in Lucius.' We know he has a lot more learning to do and will probably start out at Double-A this year, but all signs are positive to keep moving forward."

Jesus Sanchez who is ranked as the ninth best outfield prospect by MLB Pipeline, continues his development, despite tailing off when being called up to Double-A, after an outstanding stint with the Stone Crabs in 2018.

"The skill's still there, it didn't go away," said Lukevics. "You watch him the other day against Baltimore, the skill is still there. Let's have some patience and let's hope that he learned from that Double-A experience, and that he comes in this year and picks up where he left off in the Florida State League."

Cape Coral resident and USF graduate, left-hander Shane McClanahan is no stranger to the area, and although he had designs at one time of being a big league shortstop, there was a southpaw hurler who caught his imagination. A first round selection, no. 31 overall in the 2018 amateur draft, McClanahan was excited to be selected by Tampa Bay.

"I loved watching Cliff Lee throw," said McClanahan. "I wanted to be like Cliff Lee. I loved the way he went about his business. At first I modeled myself after him, and I loved the way he pitched, got in the zone. Over time it just evolved, what felt great for me, what I could repeat. Coach Mohl at USF helped me along the way tremendously. He definitely helped me become the person I am today on the field and off the field. I love being right up the street from my friends and family."


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