No. 1 prospect Wander Franco called up

June 22nd, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG -- Baseball’s best prospect is a big leaguer.

Infielder , the consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball the past two years, was called up on Tuesday, the club announced.

The switch-hitting standout joins the Rays on Tuesday for their series opener against the Red Sox at Tropicana Field, in which he'll bat second and play third base. Having lost six in a row as well as ace Tyler Glasnow over this past week, Tampa Bay is in need of a spark. Now, the defending American League champions, with a wealth of young talent atop baseball’s No. 1 farm system, are ready to unleash the game’s next young star upon the Majors.

Franco is only 20 years old, months removed from being a teenager and still younger than many of the players who will be selected in this year’s MLB Draft, yet it feels like this moment has been a long time coming. That is a testament to Franco’s talent, the anticipation of his arrival and the legend that seemed to grow every time “El Patrón” -- The Boss -- swung the bat in the Minor Leagues.

A shortstop his entire career, Franco began moving around the infield over the last year to prepare for this moment. Tampa Bay has a crowded infield with corner options like Ji-Man Choi and Yandy Díaz, second baseman Brandon Lowe, utility man Joey Wendle and fellow shortstop prospect Taylor Walls, who can also play second and third. Knowing that increased versatility would provide additional paths to playing time, Franco began working at second and third base in Spring Training and in Triple-A.

Time will tell where Franco spends most of his time on the field, but it’s worth noting that after starting 19 straight games at shortstop from May 20-June 12, four of Franco’s last seven starts came at third base, with the other three at shortstop.

And Franco has been waiting for this moment, too, knowing from a young age that this was his future.

“Of course, I'm ready to play in the big leagues,” Franco said in February through interpreter Manny Navarro. “I'm ready to achieve the goal that I've been trying to achieve since I was a little kid, to make it up to the big leagues.”

The Rays wanted to give Franco time in the Minors to prove he was ready for The Show. He did so by tearing up Triple-A pitching over the last seven weeks, batting .315 with a .954 OPS, seven homers, six triples, 11 doubles, 35 RBIs and only 21 strikeouts in 39 games for Durham.

The Bulls caught the moment Franco was told of his promotion by manager Brady Williams, capturing his emotion and his teammates’ excitement to see him called up.

Rays scouts Carlos Rodriguez and Daniel Santana signed Franco, a native of Baní, Dominican Republic, for $3.825 million on July 2, 2017. He was MLB Pipeline’s second-ranked international prospect then, behind only two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani, a prospect so famous he was introduced at a press conference when he was 13 years old. The way he’s progressed since then is indicative of Franco’s beyond-his-years talent, a path that led inevitably -- and quickly to the big leagues.

Franco did not participate in a complex-level Rookie League in the Dominican or Port Charlotte, Fla. He jumped directly to the Appalachian League as a 17-year-old in 2018, when he hit .351 with a 1.004 OPS and earned the league’s Player of the Year award. More than three years younger than his average competition, Franco led the league in hits, RBIs and total bases. He hit for the cycle, put together a 25-game hitting streak and recorded a 53-game on-base streak, all at the age most kids are making plans for homecoming and prom.

Franco leaped to the top of most prospect rankings in 2019 and delivered on the hype, hitting .327/.398/.487 with nine homers, 18 steals and 56 walks compared to 35 strikeouts in 114 games between Low-A Bowling Green and High-A Charlotte. By the end of the year, Franco had left little doubt he was the game’s best prospect -- and the youngest player to ever land atop MLB Pipeline’s rankings.

The first No. 1 prospect to debut in the Majors since Vladimir Guerrero Jr. on April 26, 2019, Franco spent last season at the Rays’ alternate training site and gained valuable experience as part of their postseason player pool. Franco did not participate in the playoffs, but he was along for the ride as Tampa Bay stormed into the World Series. He bypassed Double-A entirely and began this season with Triple-A Durham, the youngest player on a Triple-A Opening Day roster and now the first player born in 2001 to reach the Majors. He was off to a typically hot start with Durham, having a 14-game hitting streak snapped on Friday night.

Franco has been MLB Pipeline’s top-ranked prospect each of the past two years. The switch-hitter has an 80-grade hit tool, as good as it gets on the traditional scouting scale and only the second such grade given out by MLB Pipeline in 10 years. He’s continuing to add power, with no better example than the left-handed homer he blasted over the Rays’ office building during Spring Training.

The Rays made room for Franco’s looming arrival on May 21 by trading shortstop Willy Adames to the Brewers, a deal in which they also included reliever Trevor Richards and received right-handers J.P. Feyereisen and Drew Rasmussen -- who was optioned to Triple-A on Sunday night -- in return. Infielder Wyatt Mathisen was designated for assignment on Tuesday to clear a spot for Franco on the 40-man roster.

But Tampa Bay remained patient with Franco, not wanting to rush him to the bigs before he got comfortable in Triple-A. The Rays first recalled Walls, another highly touted switch-hitting middle-infield prospect, and gave him a lane to establish himself. While Wander Watch intensified in Durham and throughout the Tampa Bay area, the team remained patient.

The Rays wanted to make sure Franco was ready. They believe he is.

Now, it’s his turn.