Notes: Wander to Triple-A; Adames' bad luck

April 29th, 2021

, the top prospect in baseball, will begin the Minor League season in Triple-A.

The Rays are set to announce their Minor League rosters on Friday, and the 20-year-old Franco will join the Triple-A Durham Bulls when they begin their season on Tuesday night in Memphis, Tenn. Franco, MLB Pipeline’s No. 1 overall prospect two years in a row, will skip the Double-A level after finishing the 2019 season with Class A Advanced Charlotte.

The club has not yet officially announced its Minor League rosters. The Tampa Bay Times first reported news of Franco’s expected assignment.

Franco spent last summer at the Rays’ alternate training site in Port Charlotte, Fla., before joining their postseason player pool. He reported to big league camp for the first time in Spring Training, saying from the start it was his goal to reach the Majors this season. He went 9-for-35 during Grapefruit League play, hitting a double and a home run that flew so far out of Charlotte Sports Park that it was impossible to track.

In 2019, Franco hit .327/.398/.487 with nine homers, 56 walks and only 35 strikeouts in 495 plate appearances between two levels of Class A ball. He has only played shortstop in his professional career, but that changed this spring as he began to work at second and third base in addition to his natural position. After Spring Training ended, Franco continued to work at second and third at Tampa Bay’s alternate training site, creating additional paths to playing time for the switch-hitting infielder.

The Rays are loaded with infield options in the Majors, including starting shortstop Willy Adames, and they’re expected to have a crowded infield at Triple-A. Along with Franco, they have slick-fielding shortstop Taylor Walls, who has also worked at second and third; middle infielder Vidal Bruján, who spent time in the outfield this spring; corner infielder Kevin Padlo, who made his big league debut earlier this month; and others.

Roster moves
Expecting they’d need to clear a roster spot for the promotion of left-hander Shane McClanahan, who started Thursday’s series finale against the A’s, the Rays optioned reliever Louis Head to the alternate training site on Wednesday night. But they immediately recalled Head on Thursday morning when they placed first baseman Yoshi Tsutsugo on the COVID-19 injured list due to side effects from his vaccination, then optioned Head back down after their 3-2 loss to the A’s on Thursday afternoon -- seemingly an indication that they expect to have Tsutsugo back on Friday.

Manager Kevin Cash said Tampa Bay hopes to have Tsutsugo back on the roster and in the lineup for Friday's series opener against Houston at Tropicana Field. Reliever Diego Castillo spent one day on the COVID-19 IL last week, explaining that he felt fatigued for about 24 hours after his second dose of the vaccine.

“I don't think he felt very well last night, but [he] wanted to play. Appreciate it,” Cash said of Tsutsugo. “But I think he woke up this morning feeling really, really not good.”

With Tsutsugo sidelined and Yandy Díaz getting a day off, Mike Brosseau started at first base against A’s righty Chris Bassitt.

Tough luck for Adames
A familiar scene played out in the second inning of the Rays’ 2-0 win over the A’s on Wednesday night: Adames crushed a hard-hit ball to the warning track, but came away with nothing to show for it.

In this case, the ball boomed off Adames’ bat with an exit velocity of 103.3 mph and traveled a projected 404 feet, according to Statcast, with an expected batting average of .680. But it was an out, an outcome Adames has seen a lot of already this season.

“The ball that he hit last night, it seems like he's hit it six, seven times. He might have hit it three times in one game in Kansas City. And he's just got nothing to show for it,” Cash said Thursday morning. “It's gut-wrenching, because he's working so hard.

Adames has had his share of offensive issues, striking out in 24 of 79 plate appearances entering play on Thursday while hitting just .173/.215/.320 with two homers. But he’s done a lot of things right, with no reward. For example, Adames entered Thursday’s game with seven barrels -- four fewer than he had last season -- and a 51 percent hard-hit rate. His expected average (.225) and expected slugging percentage (.508) are noticeably higher than his actual statistics.

“When you're in a funk, you want to have that reward for squaring a ball up, and he has squared plenty of balls up and he's got nothing to show for it,” Cash said. “I can't put my words on it, but I did look at him and say, 'Man, just keep doing it. Hang in there.' We could argue that, on a given day or a different ballpark or a little bit of wind, he's sitting on seven, eight home runs in the last 10 games.

“We're confident that it's coming. Talking to him, he's confident that it's coming. I'm really impressed and encouraged with the way Willy has gone about his early season lack of results -- I don't even want to say scuffles, just lack of results.”