Wander leads Rays' first camp cuts

March 15th, 2021

The Rays reassigned top prospect Wander Franco to Minor League camp while making their first round of Spring Training roster cuts on Monday morning.

Franco, MLB Pipeline's No. 1 prospect for the second straight year, was not expected to break camp on Tampa Bay's Opening Day roster. He just turned 20 on March 1, didn't take the field in an official game last year due to the canceled Minor League season and has yet to play a game above the High-A level.

"You've got to be very disciplined," Franco said Saturday through interpreter Manny Navarro when asked what he learned in big-league camp. "I know we're playing some teams that have really good players on their team, so my job is just be disciplined and just learn from the experience that other players tell me."

But Franco showed glimpses of his enormous potential during his first Major League spring camp, and the Rays revealed in his final game how much thought they've put into the switch-hitting shortstop's immediate future.

The early highlight of Spring Training in Port Charlotte, Fla., was perhaps the massive, unmeasurable home run Franco hit against the Pirates on March 3. His offensive ability should lead him to the Majors at some point later this year, though there are some questions about where he'll play in the field due to Willy Adames' presence as the starting shortstop and the group of talented infielders already in the big leagues for the defending American League champions.

With that in mind, Franco's start at third base on Sunday afternoon was notable, as was manager Kevin Cash's suggestion that Franco will continue working at second, third and his natural position of shortstop. More versatility will give Franco more paths to playing time in the Majors.

"We had talked to Wander a couple days ago, just expressed that there's no denying he's a very talented player," Cash said. "Saying that, we have a core group of guys that played really well last year, went to the World Series, and it was kind of time to get those guys together and playing deeper in these games."

At some point this season, the Rays likely will call upon Franco to join that group. For now, after going 5-for-17 in seven spring games, he'll continue to work out at the club's Charlotte Sports Park complex along with the nine others reassigned until the Minor League season begins in May.

The following players were also reassigned to Minor League camp on Monday: right-handers Shane Baz, Phoenix Sanders and Tyler Zombro; left-hander Kenny Rosenberg, who closed out the Rays’ 3-2 win over the Red Sox on Monday; catcher Blake Hunt; infielders Xavier Edwards and Greg Jones; and outfielders Moisés Gomez and Garrett Whitley. That left the Rays with 63 active players on their Spring Training roster.

Edwards (No. 85) and Baz (No. 90) rank among MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects, while Jones (No. 13), Gomez (No. 16) and Hunt (No. 23) ranked among the Rays' Top 30 Minor League players last season according to MLB Pipeline.

Of the 10 players cut on Monday, only Rosenberg, Sanders and Zombro have played above Class A or High-A ball. That made this an even more valuable experience, as the younger prospects learned from the Rays' more experienced players. And they showed that they might belong someday, too.

"There's no denying the talent that is through this organization," Cash said. "And in fairness, there's a lot of talented players that aren't here right now."

Hunt earned rave reviews for his work at the plate and behind it. Gomez bashed a couple long, loud home runs. Edwards went 3-for-9 in his limited playing time. Baz displayed his electric stuff, showed the improvement of his changeup and struck out four batters in his two innings of work. Jones, the Rays' first-round Draft pick in 2019, spent some time with the big league coaching staff after not playing at all last year.

"He needs a season," Cash said of Jones. "You look at the progress that he's made, and he just would really benefit. [Third-base coach Rodney Linares] said the other day: You can practice, practice, practice, but it's getting into the flow of a season and the reps leading into games. He is a guy that is super talented. He's got a lot of pop in his bat, he can fly, he's got as good an arm as anybody.

"But I think all the guys that were listed are really good players, and certainly can envision them helping us in the future."

All nine players cut from the big-league camp roster will remain in Port Charlotte to prepare for their seasons, play in back-field games and even appear in Grapefruit League contests the rest of the month.

"We've had conversations with all of them, good conversations, basically that innings are coming a little thinner now because we've got to get guys stretched out and our position player core group is going to start playing deeper in ballgames," Cash said. "But very complimentary and high praise for all the guys that were named and what we think about them."