Will Wander Franco debut in 2020?

July 22nd, 2020

For the past several weeks and months, we’ve been answering your prospect questions weekly in a bit of a baseball vacuum, without any actual, you know, baseball to reflect on.

Well, that’s about to change!

We are on the cusp of starting the 2020 regular season and while we unfortunately won’t have Minor League action, there will be many prospects making 30-man rosters and/or heading to alternate camps. Many of your questions this week were centered around that very subject, though I did start with a Draft-related query.

Oh, in case you’re wondering, the streak of getting “when are the new lists coming out” questions was extended this week. So I’ll answer it again, even though Jim Callis answered it last week and we’ve mentioned it many, many times on Twitter. Our updated lists, which will fold in the 2020 Draft class, will come out soon after the Draft signing deadline, which is on Aug. 1.

Sure, we’ll consider it...

My colleague did an excellent job at singling out the best classes in this year’s abbreviated Draft. Five of the six teams he ranked -- the Tigers, Marlins, Rockies, Orioles and Padres, in order -- all picked in the top 10.

So any list of non-top-10 picking best Draft teams would have to start with the No. 6 organization on Callis’ rankings: the Cleveland Indians. Starting with them, here’s how I would line up the top five from that group:

1. Indians: Had a great Day 2 of the Draft (after two solid first-day selections with Carson Tucker and Tanner Burns) featuring a pair of college performers and two over-slot high school signings.

2. Dodgers: Got two first-round caliber arms in Bobby Miller and Clayton Beeter, and over-slot high school signee Jake Vogel has some serious tools. Even senior sign Landon Knack has big league stuff.

3. D-backs: Arizona went after college arms on Day 1 and nabbed two with first-round stuff in Bryce Jarvis and Slade Cecconi. Then they went aggressively after high school talent, landing big lefty Liam Norris and slugging outfielder A.J. Vukovich.

4. Brewers: Getting Garrett Mitchell at No. 20 could prove to be the steal of the first round as his raw tools belonged much higher. They went all college this time and got someone in our Top 200 with all five of their selections.

5. Phillies: Callis gave them an honorable mention as the best Draft for a team with fewer than five picks and for good reason. Getting Mick Abel in the first round and Casey Martin in the third lands them on this list in my book.

I’ll give a shout out to the Rays and Reds, too, for having solid Drafts.

My initial response to this was going to be that Franco, the No. 1 prospect in the game, had zero chance to land in Tampa. Then I stopped to think a little bit more…

And more or less came up with the same conclusion. But I am willing to see how it could happen, even if it’s unlikely.

Had this been a normal season, I would have predicted that Franco, 19, would have a much better chance of making his Major League debut this season. He was coming off a 2019 season that saw him hit a combined .327/.398/.487 across two levels of Class A ball, so seeing him start the year in Double-A in April would have made a lot of sense. To think he would hit his way up two levels over the course of the year is far from outlandish.

Now, however, is a bit different because of the truncated season and the lack of Minor League games for Franco to get reps in. So I think it’s probable that he’ll spend the summer at the Rays’ alternate camp in Port Charlotte, Fla. which will provide him with invaluable instruction and work with older and more experienced players. Additionally, the big league team has shortstop capably covered by Willy Adames.

If Franco is going off down there and the Rays think he’s needed to help them win the World Series, then maybe there’s a shot he sees Tampa. That would have to be weighed against starting his service time clock, another variable that makes it more likely that the Rays will find a spot for him in the big league lineup at some point in 2021.

I saw this question as an opportunity to shine a light on some non-top-flight prospects who will have a better chance to show what they can do in the big leagues this season because of how things are being set up. But there are some Top 100 types who could also take advantage.

Jesús Luzardo, the A’s top prospect and No. 12 overall, is a little behind schedule after a positive coronavirus test. He’s expected to start the year pitching out of the big league bullpen as he gets stretched out to return to being a starter long-term. Had this been a regular season, without the expanded rosters, I think it possible he would’ve started the year in the Minors to get that work in.

Brendan Rodgers, No. 29 on the Top 100, is 100 percent healthy and ready to go. He doesn’t have a direct path to an everyday job in Colorado, but the universal DH could help him out. The Rockies could put Rodgers at second, move Ryan McMahon to first and let Daniel Murphy handle designated hitter duties to get all three into the lineup on a regular basis.

Beyond cases like that, the best places to look for prospects taking advantage of the 30-man rosters to start the season are probably in pitching staffs and behind the plate. A Top 100 prospect like Kyle Wright seems likely to land a spot because of some injuries/positive COVID tests, but the expanded roster, along with the potential for a piggyback system in the rotation. Fellow Braves prospect Tucker Davidson (No. 10) could also benefit from the extra spots on the pitching staff. Angels lefty Patrick Sandoval (No. 6) got a late start because of a positive coronavirus test, but he could break camp as part of Los Angeles’ six-man rotation, at least until Julio Teheran is ready. Rays right-hander Pete Fairbanks (No. 24) and Yankees No. 25 Michael King are other arms who will at least get the chance to show they can contribute early.

Additionally, many teams are going to carry three catchers. That could give an opportunity to someone like the Braves’ Alex Jackson (No. 22) or even the A’s Jonah Heim (No. 10), though he won’t start the year with the team. Could top Reds catching prospect Tyler Stephenson (No. 3) find time in Cincinnati as a third catcher? The roster flexibility could help him, as could Kyle Farmer’s ability to play shortstop more frequently.