Top prospect Franco sets goal to debut in '21

November 11th, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG -- Over the past year, Wander Franco -- the Rays’ No. 1 prospect and the consensus top prospect in baseball -- made it clear that his goal was to make his debut at some point during the 2020 season.

But with the coronavirus pandemic cancelling the Minor League season, Franco was unable to make his debut as planned. Instead, he settled for spending the 2020 campaign at the Rays’ alternate training site and being part of Tampa Bay’s 40-man player pool throughout the postseason run.

On Wednesday, Franco said he thought he would eventually get a chance to help the Rays in the postseason, but the 19-year-old phenom mentioned that the experience of being around the Major League team during the World Series run really benefited him.

“You get to watch those players and how they communicate, how they work and how they have so much fun when they play,” Franco said in Spanish. “It was honestly a great experience for me.”

Franco continues to set the bar high for himself, setting a goal to make his Major League debut during the 2021 season as a 20-year-old. It remains unclear which level of the Minors Franco will start in next season, but the Rays won’t rush the top prospect.

“The potential is undeniable for all the reasons that have been covered by those that have seen him,” said Rays general manager Erik Neander. “He has the abilities to have an impactful Major League career for a long time, that’s unquestionable. There’s no way around that.

“But you also want to make sure he’s fully set up for success in all aspects that go into that. He’s 19 going on 20, you want to make sure you do everything possible to help him mature physically, emotionally, mentally to be in the best position to deal with all the expectations that are going to be with him because of his current prospect status.”

Neander also points out that the Rays have “a few guys” that can play shortstop, which is Franco’s natural position. However, if there’s a chance for Tampa Bay to get Franco’s bat in the lineup at some point next season, the club will be open to moving the prospect to another position -- primarily third base -- in order to accomplish that.

“He certainly has the abilities to play other positions if that’s the way he breaks through and gets his first shot,” Neander said. “But those are all things for us to consider during spring and beyond at this point.”

But before those decisions have to be made, the Rays granted Franco permission to play with Leones del Escogido in the Dominican Winter League in order to get him game action. Baseball’s top prospect will play at least 15 games with Escogido, all at shortstop. Tampa Bay infielder Nate Lowe and prospect Jim Haley will also play for Escogido, though they will be allowed to play the entire season.

“They told me to go do what I know how to do and stay disciplined and to just come help the team,” Franco said, when asked what the Rays’ message was. “I need to give it my all, because you learn a lot in this league that you don’t in the United States.”