The Tampa Bay Rays are an organization rich with talent. A lot of that talent resides in their rookie league Princeton affiliate. A team led by a 17-year-old phenom, the Princeton Rays were one of the best in the Appalachian League.
The Princeton Rays of the Appalachian League were a force to be reckoned with all year led by 17-year-old phenom Wander Franco at the plate and Luis Moncada on the mound. The rookie Tampa Bay Rays led the league in slugging percentage, batting average, and OPS. They were second in the league in on base percentage and homers, and only one team struck out fewer times than them.
The Princeton Rays pitching staff gave up fewer hits than any other staff in the Appalachian League and they were fourth in the league in earned run average. They did lead the league in saves though.
They won the east division and went on to the semifinals where they took two out of three from the Bluefield Blue Jays on their way to the league finals where they were swept by the Elizabethton Twins.
Leading the Princeton Rays to a record of 44-22 was Wander Franco, the top prospect in the Tampa Bay Rays system and a top 15 prospect in all of Major League Baseball. In what was truly one of the best years in the history of the Appalachian League, Franco’s value skyrocketed.
In his first professional season, Wander Franco made his $3,825,000 signing bonus look like a bargain for the Rays. He hit .351, had a SLG% of .587, and a .418 OBP. He led the team in games played (61), homers (11), RBI (57), and total bases (142). The next closest player had 94 total bases, 48 less. The Rays couldn’t have asked for anything else from Wander Franco in 2018.
It might have been the Franco show, but we can’t lose sight of the other top performers at the plate for Princeton. The 24-year-old infielder Connor Hollis, played in 48 games and hit .365.
Tony Pena also had an impressive year. The 21-year-old centerfielder out of the Dominican Republic hit .357 and slugged .540 across 36 games.
In an even shorter stint in the Appalachian League, Vincent Byrd put on a power display. A 14th round pick in the 2017 draft out of Long Beach Community College, the 21-year-old hit 10 homers in only 102 at bats. In the GCL last year he only hit one bomb in 113 at-bats. Byrd might be someone to keep an eye on next year.
On the mound, Luis Moncada was third on the team in innings pitched, but made 9 starts and finished with a 3.13 earned run average which was the best on the team for a starting pitcher. He struck out 53 and only walked 18. The 20 year old’s second season in Princeton was a good one.
Princeton had a great year at the plate, and was anchored by Luis Moncada on the mound. Shane Baz, the Pirates first round draft pick in 2017, who came over to the Rays in the Chris Archer trade was less than impressive in two starts for Princeton, but was good for the Pirate’s Appalachian league affiliate.
There was much to like in Princeton in 2018 and there will surely be more of the same in 2019, even if some notable prospects will be moving up the organizational ranks.