ST. PETERSBURG -- Wander Franco, the game’s top prospect per MLB Pipeline, continuously says the goal is to make his Major League debut in 2020, and there’s still a chance of that happening.
When the Rays announced their 60-man player pool on Sunday, Franco was one of the players on the list. He will be one of the players reporting to Port Charlotte, which is one of the two sites the Rays will be using for "summer camp."
With uncertainty still surrounding the Minor League season, adding Franco to the 60-man pool allows the Rays to continue developing the 19-year-old phenom in the United States. Franco will also be allowed to play against Major League talent during intrasquad games, and Tampa Bay sees great value in that.
Making the Major League club will be difficult for Franco, given the infield talent the Rays have, including shortstop Willy Adames and utility man Brandon Lowe, who was an All-Star in 2019. But even if the decision to add Franco to the player pool is strictly for developmental purposes, it opens the door for him to play his way into the conversation for a spot on the active roster.
And with how advanced Franco’s bat is, that’s always a possibility.
“We’re not going to force anything. We’re not going to throw any additional expectations on him,” Rays general manager Erik Neander said in February. “We just want to make sure that we do right by him, progress him in all aspects of his development as best as we can, and prepare him for one day being a Major League player.”
Since arriving in the United States, all Franco has done is hit. It doesn’t matter the level or the league, he has been able to hit. In 2018, a 17-year-old Franco dominated Rookie ball, slashing .351/.418/.587 with 11 home runs in 61 games. That performance helped him become one of the top prospects in baseball.
In ‘19, Franco solidified himself as the consensus top prospect after hitting .339 with three home runs in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. But perhaps most impressive is that Franco rarely strikes out. In 768 Minor League plate appearances, Franco has struck out just 54 times.
Franco also made his Spring Training debut before the shutdown, connecting on a pair of hits and starting a triple play defensively. The playing time was limited as he served mostly as a reserve, but the talent was evident.
“He has all the tools that people talk about,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash during Spring Training. “He’s fast, he has a great arm. You can see that he has a knack for making contact and a knack to hit them a long way. We haven’t seen all of that yet, but just in his little practice and pregame routine, you can tell that he has a chance to be a special player.”
Aside from Franco, the Rays also added prospects Shane McClanahan and Ronaldo Hernandez to the 60-man player pool. Hernandez, the Rays’ No. 11 prospect, will be one of the catchers in Port Charlotte and will benefit from continuing his development on defense. Hernandez was added to the 40-man roster in November.
McClanahan, the team’s No. 7 prospect, was one of the most impressive pitchers during the spring. The University of South Florida product flashes 100 mph from the left side and has shown the ability to throw a plus breaking ball. He projects as a starting pitcher, but the Rays could call on McClanahan if they need a left-handed power arm in the bullpen.