Jesse Sanchez

Franco brings pedigree, skills to prospect showcase

Shortstop, who has several relatives with pro experience, 1 of 54 players at international event

Franco brings pedigree, skills to prospect showcase

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- The next big teenage prospect out of the Dominican Republic has a familiar name and a big league blood line.

Wander Samuel Franco, 15, is considered the best infield prospect on the island for the international signing period that starts July 2, and he lived up to the hype this week at Major League Baseball's International Prospect Showcase at Estadio Quisqueya Juan Marichal, the country's most famous ballpark.

The switch-hitting shortstop hit the ball hard during all three games and showed off the soft hands that some scouts have compared to those of Omar Vizquel.

"This is a real honor to be here with some of the best players, and it's been fun," Franco said in Spanish. "I'd like to be just like my uncle Erick. He's a star and a good player. I want to be that, too."

Franco is the nephew of Padres shortstop Erick Aybar. His oldest brother, Wander Javier Franco, 22, is a Minor Leaguer for the Royals, and his second-oldest brother, Wander Alexander Franco, 20, is a Minor Leaguer in the Astros' organization. Franco's father, also named Wander, also played professionally.

"It's an advantage having so many players in the family," Wander Samuel said. "I know I'm lucky to be able to work out with my uncle. He's helped me a lot with tips on the field and how to be a professional baseball player. It's great."

Including Franco, a total of 54 players representing Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Panama and Venezuela participated in the MLB event. Catcher Daniel Flores of Venezuela, shortstop Luis Garcia of the Dominican Republic, shortstop Leonardo Jimenez of Panama and right-handed pitcher Heitor Tokar of Brazil.

The showcase portion of the event began Wednesday with a 60-yard dash, infield and outfield practice, along with batting practice and one game. The prospects played in two games Thursday in front of more than 300 scouts and front-office executives for all 30 teams.

"The growth for me comes from the countries involved," said Director of Major League Baseball's Scouting Bureau Bill Bavasi. "You have Nicaragua and Panama, Brazil. There are players from many nations, and not just the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. That's where I see the growth is. ... I'm not sure one of these is enough, because it's such a popular thing with the scouts and the clubs, but as we can get these emerging markets involved, it should grow that way."

While traditional scouting remains an important part of acquiring talent, events like MLB's International Prospect Showcase are becoming more common in an evolving international market place. The rules have changed.

This much is still certain: When the international signing period starts on July 2, the A's, Braves, Astros, Cardinals, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Nationals, Padres, Reds and Royals will not be able to sign international prospects for more than $300,000 because they are in the maximum penalty. The Angels, D-backs, Rays, Red Sox and Yankees will no longer be limited to signing players for $300,000 or less, and they are expected to be busy on the international front in 2017.

The Brewers, Indians, Mariners, Mets, Rangers, Rockies and Twins will also be active during the next international signing period.

The guidelines for signing a prospect are these: A 16-year-old international player can sign during the period that extends from July 2 through June 15 of next year if the prospect turns 17 before Sept. 1 of this year or by the completion of his first Minor League season.

The rules for signing international prospects are changing for the signing period that starts July 2. According to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, every team will get at least $4.75 million to spend on international prospects. Any team receiving a Competitive Balance Round A pick in the Draft will get $5.25 million in international bonus pool money. Additionally, teams receiving a Competitive Balance Round B pick will have $5.75 million to spend.

A club can trade as much of its international pool money as it would like, but there is a limit -- 75 percent of a team's initial pool -- to how much one team can acquire.

Franco, who turns 16 on March 1, will likely sign July 2, the first day he is eligible to sign. He's determined to follow his brothers into the family business.

"My goal is to make my family, friends and everyone who has supported me proud," he said. "I want to be a Major League player. That's my dream."

Jesse Sanchez, who has been writing for since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.