The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
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No more "Wander"ing in the minors for Franco

Tampa Bay’s Wander Franco finally made his big-league debut last week, after a couple of years of being touted as the top prospect in all of baseball. The anticipation of his promotion to the majors was on par with former teenage phenoms Ken Griffey Jr. in 1989 and Bryce Harper in 2012.

The 20-year-old Franco didn’t disappoint anyone when he hit a home run and a double in his debut game on June 22 against the Boston Red Sox. Coming out of spring training, it was anticipated Franco would eventually get his callup this season. It’s likely the Rays’ front office purposefully held him back until now so that the start of his service time in the majors would be delayed. (After five years of a player’s service time in the majors, he becomes eligible for free agency.) Recall the same situation occurred with Kris Bryant’s promotion with the Chicago Cubs in 2015.

In fact, Franco was probably ready for the majors last year, but again it was likely a financial decision to keep him at the Rays’ summer camp, when it became evident a full season wouldn’t be played due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Otherwise, he would have used up one of his years of major league service time, without the Rays getting the full benefit of his playing an entire season.

Franco, a native of the Dominican Republic, was signed by the Rays as a 17-year-old in 2018, when he made his professional debut in the rookie Appalachian League. Right off the bat, his slash line was an impressive .351/.418/.587, with 11 HRs and 57 RBIs in only 61 games.

Prior to the 2019 season, Baseball America had projected him as the No. 4 prospect in the minors. He lived up to expectations by slashing a combined .328/.398/.487, with 9 HRs and 53 RBIs, between Hi-A and Lo-A levels.

Prior to the 2020 season, and Baseball Prospectus joined Baseball America in ranking Franco the overall No. 1 prospect. But then the minor league season was cancelled entirely in 2020 because of the pandemic. Franco spent last summer working out in the Rays’ summer camp, where the organization’s top prospects kept in baseball shape. He was rated No. 1 again for the 2021 season.

Franco is a switch-hitter that has mostly played shortstop in the minors. The Rays traded its light-hitting shortstop Willie Adames to the Milwaukee Brewers in May, with most baseball analysts thinking the Rays were making room for Franco. Franco’s first game was at third base, so it remains to be seen where he will play most of the time.

Franco has been rated a five-tool player. That would put him in the company of Griffey and Harper, which of course sets high expectations for him. It’s projected he will join a bevy of new, young stars that have become the faces of MLB, including players such as Juan Soto, Ronald Acuna Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr., and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Franco’s only problem with keeping up with those guys in popularity is that he plays in the Tampa market, which is not known as a rabid baseball town.

Here’s a piece of trivia about Franco: if you search for “Wander Franco,” you will find three players. In addition to the Rays’ new star (whose full name is Wander Samuel Franco), he has two brothers, both named Wander, who have also played professionally. There’s Wander Javier Franco, who last played in the independent leagues in 2019. He previously played in the Royals and Giants organizations. Then there’s Wander Alexander Franco, who last played in the minors for the Giants in 2019.

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