FAQ: Prepare for Wander's arrival on Tuesday

June 22nd, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG -- Four years after signing with the Rays, has officially arrived. MLB Pipeline's No. 1 overall prospect's big league debut is set for Tuesday night, when he will bat second and play third base for the Rays against the Red Sox at Tropicana Field.

It will be a long-awaited moment despite the 20-year-old’s quick rise through the Minors, the latest in a long line of highly anticipated MLB debuts by Rays prospects. And it will be a closely watched event in the baseball world, as Franco has been known as one of the industry’s most talented -- and famous -- prospects for at least a half-decade.

Rays fans and those who monitor the Minor Leagues are undoubtedly familiar with Franco, the switch-hitting phenom who’s checked in atop MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects list in each of the last two years, and they are surely clamoring to finally see him compete against the game’s best competition. But for those who don’t have a full grasp of who Franco is and what makes him special, here’s the info you need:

How can I watch the game?
The game will air locally on Bally Sports Sun at 7:10 p.m. ET, and the Rays’ radio broadcast will air on WDAE. It will also be available on MLB.TV as the Free Game of the Day.

How do you pronounce his name?
WAHN-der FRAHN-co (not FRANK-o)

Why is he such a big deal?
Are the back-to-back No. 1 overall prospect rankings not enough for you? The 80-grade hit tool? The fact that he’s 20 and only four years removed from signing? The way he zoomed through the Minors for an organization that’s traditionally fairly conservative with even its best prospects? Must we go on?

OK, fine.

Franco is a big deal because hitters like him don’t come along very often. He’s a switch-hitter with an unnatural ability to make contact and developing in-game power that leads to mammoth home runs like the one that cleared a building in Spring Training. And Franco is not a bat-only player, either. He’s well-rounded with a high floor and a high ceiling.

Still need more? Read on.

What can we expect from him at the plate?
Franco’s swing looks effortless when he’s going right. He has incredible bat speed and unbelievably strong hands and wrists. He can hit the ball hard to all fields from both sides of the plate, and he pairs all that with truly exceptional plate discipline.

He has an 80-grade hit tool (that's highest on the scouting scale) for a reason, and his raw power is showing up in games more often. He’s about to debut at the age of 20, and he’s been showing skill far beyond his years by dominating older pitchers for years. The teammates who dubbed him “El Patrón” -- The Boss -- seemingly never get tired of seeing what he does next. Nor, likely, will we.

What can we expect from him on defense?
Franco has been a solid defensive shortstop every step of the way, and he’s expanded on his versatility over the past year by getting more work at second and third base. He’s not the best defensive infielder in the Rays’ system -- that’d be Taylor Walls -- and he doesn’t have the speed of fellow prospect Vidal Bruján. But he has good instincts, good hands and plenty of arm strength to settle in on either side of second base.

So, he might not be the Rays’ starting shortstop in the long run, but he is more than capable of handling himself anywhere in the infield. The fact that he’s versatile will allow the Rays to keep his bat in the lineup while maintaining their typically high level of defensive prowess. And no matter where Franco plays, he’ll hit.

What number will he wear?
No. 5, last worn in Tampa Bay by Matt Duffy from 2016-19 and best worn by Rocco Baldelli from 2003-10. The others to don the No. 5 Rays (and Devil Rays) uniform before Franco: Brandon Guyer, Sam Fuld, Pat Burrell and Felix Escalona.

Last October, Franco fueled some speculation that he might make his Major League debut in the World Series by posting a photo of his No. 5 jersey on Instagram. That speculation wasn’t based in reality, of course, but it was an early look at a jersey we’ll see a lot more moving forward. He also wore the number in Spring Training and for Triple-A Durham.

How will the Rays use him?
That decision will be up to manager Kevin Cash on a daily basis, but the Rays didn’t call him up to have him sit on the bench. Expect to see Franco play every day in the infield as he’s proven capable of playing shortstop, second and third. He’s played a lot of third lately in Durham. The Rays have options all over the infield, including Walls, the versatile Joey Wendle, second baseman Brandon Lowe and corner infielder Yandy Díaz.

Where will he hit in the lineup?
Franco consistently batted second in Durham, which is where modern lineup construction suggests a team’s best hitter should be. Cash changes his lineups on a daily basis, so it’s possible Franco could move around frequently upon his arrival, though he will bat second in his debut on Tuesday.

Are there any player comps for Franco?
It’s truly difficult to compare anyone to Franco, considering he’s a 20-year-old phenom with a premium hit tool, emerging power and the ability to play shortstop at a high level. But fortunately, Franco grew up with a pretty decent comparable player right around the corner -- literally.

Franco is from the same neighborhood as José Ramírez, Cleveland’s All-Star third baseman. And there are some similarities beyond their shared hometown of Baní, Dominican Republic.

Both are compact and built solidly, with Franco listed at 5-foot-10, 190 pounds and Ramírez at 5-foot-9, 190 pounds. Both are switch-hitters. At their best, both hit for a high average, get on base a ton and tap into surprising power for their stature without striking out much. (Ramírez, for instance, walked more than he struck out in 2018, as Franco did in each of his first two Minor League seasons.) And, hey, Ramírez made his big league debut at the age of 20 as well.

One difference is that Franco is a solid defensive shortstop, whereas Ramírez broke in as a utility player before ultimately settling in at third base. Another is that Franco is a more famous prospect than Ramírez ever was. But it’s probably not unreasonable to think that Franco could peak offensively in the way Ramírez did from 2017-18, when he hit .294/.380/.567, averaged 34 homers, 47 doubles, 94 RBIs, 7.2 WAR and finished third twice in the American League MVP voting.

Another imperfect comparison offensively is Vladimir Guerrero Jr., simply because he and Franco are the only prospects to receive an 80-grade on their hitting from MLB Pipeline. Guerrero has more power, though, while Franco is a more valuable defensive player.

Where is he from?
Franco hails from the city of Baní in the Peravia province of the Dominican Republic. Baní is located less than 40 miles from Santo Domingo, the Dominican’s capital city, and less than 5 miles from the Caribbean Sea. He is far from the first and only big leaguer to call Baní home, too.

Among the other notable Major League players born in Baní: Ramirez, the Aybars (Erick and Willy), Miguel Tejada, Rays teammate Francisco Mejía, Reds pitcher Luis Castillo and longtime Dodgers reliever Pedro Báez.

How did the Rays acquire him?
The Rays first saw Franco while scouting outfielder Jesús Sánchez in 2014, and then signed him as a 16-year-old international amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic on July 2, 2017, better known as international signing day. Franco was the second-ranked international prospect in his class, behind only two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani. Franco’s signing scouts were Carlos Rodriguez and Daniel Santana. He received the highest signing bonus of any international amateur during the 2017-18 period at $3.825 million.

How does the timing of Franco’s debut affect his contract?
Because he did not debut on or before April 15, Franco will not accrue a full year of Major League service time in 2021. Even if he remains with the big league club for the rest of the regular season, the earliest he could reach free agency is after the 2027 season. Additionally, it’s possible that the timing of Franco’s debut could prevent him from gaining Super Two status, which would mean four trips through the arbitration process instead of the typical three. However, it’s unknown if that will be the case, especially with the collective bargaining agreement expiring at the end of the year.

What pitcher will he be facing?
The Red Sox will start left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez on Tuesday night.