Notes: Franco's fit at 3rd; Phillips' injury

March 14th, 2021

Over the years, the Rays have shown a tendency to shift their prospects around the field as they advance through the system, adding to their defensive versatility and creating more paths to playing time in the Majors. Top prospect is no exception.

Franco started at third base in the Rays’ 8-7 loss to the Braves on Sunday at CoolToday Park in North Port, Fla., his first appearance in a game at a position other than shortstop.

Franco made plays on all three balls hit to him during his five innings in the field, although his attempt to start a double play on a fifth-inning grounder by Ender Inciarte yielded only one out.

“I felt very, very good and comfortable, like I've been playing there before,” Franco said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “Luckily, I felt really good.”

With shortstop Willy Adames helping Franco with his positioning, manager Kevin Cash agreed he looked comfortable during his first game action at the hot corner. That should come as no surprise.

Franco, MLB Pipeline’s No. 1 overall prospect two years in a row, is a quality defender at shortstop with a strong arm. He spent some time at second and third base at the Rays’ alternate training site last year, and Franco said he fielded ground balls at third on Saturday to prepare for Sunday’s game. He’ll likely see time at second, third and shortstop as Spring Training continues.

“I know that I could play at any other position, so wherever they put me is their decision,” Franco said. “I'm going to be ready to play wherever that may be.”

It remains to be seen when Franco will play with the Rays this season, much less where he’ll play when he does. He’s only 20 years old, and he hasn’t played in an affiliated game above Class A ball. But he set a goal of reaching the big leagues this year, and the Rays are understandably excited about his potential. And his switch-hitting bat should play anywhere he lines up in the field. He went 1-for-3 on Sunday, and he made solid contact on each of his outs.

“He looks very comfortable, basically, with a glove or a bat in his hand,” Cash said.

Franco isn’t the only one of the Rays’ upper-level middle-infield prospects who’s bounced around the field this spring. Slick-fielding shortstop Taylor Walls has seen time at second and third. The speedy Vidal Bruján has played center field and started in right on Sunday. That mirrors the path taken by Adames, who played some second base as a rookie before cementing his role as Tampa Bay’s everyday shortstop.

And it’s Adames’ steady presence at shortstop now that provides the Rays with good reason to try out talented young players like Franco at different positions. If they need him somewhere other than shortstop, they want him to be prepared.

“We've got a really good shortstop. Going to have to move around a little bit to accommodate everybody, whenever that time comes,” Cash said. “But Willy Adames is our shortstop; he's really good at it. We'll make sure everybody around him is as equipped and prepared as possible to play other spots.”

Phillips exits with injury
Outfielder left Sunday’s game in the third inning due to left hamstring tightness. Phillips doubled and scored on a Kevan Smith single in the second inning, and Cash said he tweaked his hamstring while scoring from second base.

Josh Lowe replaced Phillips in center in the bottom of the third. Cash said the injury is “probably not a major reason for concern” if Phillips reports improvement Monday morning, but the club will take a deeper look if he remains sore.

“He's frustrated,” Cash said. “He said he worked so hard this offseason to kind of do hamstring maintenance stuff, and it crept up.”

Game notes
• High-leverage relievers Diego Castillo and Nick Anderson each pitched a scoreless inning, with Anderson looking particularly sharp as he struck out Jason Kipnis and Ozzie Albies. Starter Drew Strotman, left-hander Brian Moran and righty Louis Head also delivered scoreless innings. But the Rays’ standout on the mound Sunday was hard-throwing righty Stetson Allie, who threw nine straight strikes and struck out both Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna in a perfect fourth inning.

“It's really weird. When I'm out there, I don't even kind of see who I'm throwing at. I'm just kind of focusing on my breath. Otherwise, everything just kind of gets haywire,” Allie said. “So when I was done, everyone was like, 'Hey, you faced Freeman and this guy and that guy,' and I was like, 'Oh, cool.’ I was like, I didn't even know. I was so zoned in.”

• Reliever Yacksel Ríos gave up a pair of homers to Kipnis and Ronald Acuña Jr. in the fifth. Phoenix Sanders allowed back-to-back home runs by Shea Langeliers and Sean Kazmar Jr. in the eighth, and Atlanta walked off against Tyler Zombro with a one-out walk and single followed by Ehire Adrianza’s three-run homer.

• Three Rays prospects came through with impressive home runs of their own, as Miles Mastrobuoni, Dalton Kelly and Moises Gomez all went deep. Gomez bashed a ball high off the batter’s eye in center for his second homer of the spring.

“When he gets a hold of it, it goes,” Cash said. “Looked like he was playing pepper with the backdrop.”

Up next
The Rays are expected to send three of their top young arms to the mound on Monday when they return to Charlotte Sports Park to host the Red Sox. Right-hander Joe Ryan and lefties Shane McClanahan and Josh Fleming are scheduled to pitch for Tampa Bay, giving the front office and fans a glimpse at a trio of pitchers who should help the rotation this season. The game will air on FOX Sports Sun and MLB.TV, with a radio call available free on First pitch is set for 1:05 p.m. ET.