CLEVELAND -- As he answered a FaceTime call about an hour before taking the field for batting practice, Wander Franco stood in a hallway near the American League clubhouse at Progressive Field. On the nearby television, Franco watched the High School Home Run Derby, which had a field filled with 17- and 18-year-olds.
In another world, Franco, who turned 18 on March 1 and was the youngest player on either roster in Sunday’s SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game, would be getting ready to compete in that event during All-Star weekend. Instead, Franco returned to his locker and was met by a large line of reporters who were eager to talk to the game’s top prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.
Franco led off and played shortstop for the American League. He was eager before the game to show everyone that he could excel against some of the game’s best prospects.
“I feel super good because I compare myself to others and they’re all good baseball players,” Franco said. “I like that they’re all American, Latin, and I like to spend time with them and know that they’re good baseball players, just like I am.”
In his first full professional season, Franco is batting .332 (87-for-262) with 48 runs scored, 19 doubles, five triples, eight home runs, 38 RBIs and 17 stolen bases in just 70 Minor League games split between Class A Bowling Green and Class A Advanced Charlotte. Even more impressive is the fact that Franco has yet to strike out in 29 plate appearances since being promoted to Charlotte.
On Sunday, however, Franco struck out looking in his first plate appearance.
“It was inside,” said Franco, who has already developed a reputation of having a tremendous eye at the plate. “I was looking for a fastball because I knew he was going to throw it to me, but it was just too inside.”
During his at-bat, Franco showed exactly why scouts have raved about his ability at the plate ever since the Rays signed him to a $3.85 million signing bonus out of the Dominican Republic. In the fourth inning, Franco, who was hitting from the right side, shot a 107.7 mph opposite-field single off Mets pitching prospect Anthony Kay.
“I really wanted to get that hit,” Franco said, with a smile. ”Thankfully I got the hit the second time.”
Franco was thrown out trying to steal second on the very next pitch, ending his night. The Rays’ top prospect finished the game going 1-for-2 and didn’t get much action defensively at shortstop.
Overall, Franco said that playing in the Futures Game was “really important” because it gave him the ability to showcase his talent in front of a national audience and his father, mother and two brothers. It was just the second time that his family had watched him play in person in the United States.
“I really enjoyed every moment because it was marvelous,” Franco said. “The best players are here, so it was very important for me to be able to be here. I feel really good about that.”