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Rays phenom Franco poised for a big year

@juanctoribio
February 14, 2020

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Over the years, the Rays have stockpiled elite prospects in their farm system, and it’s starting to pay dividends. Tampa Bay has six prospects in the MLB Pipeline top 100 list, the most of any organization. But even in a stacked farm system like Tampa Bay’s,

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Over the years, the Rays have stockpiled elite prospects in their farm system, and it’s starting to pay dividends. Tampa Bay has six prospects in the MLB Pipeline top 100 list, the most of any organization.

But even in a stacked farm system like Tampa Bay’s, Wander Franco, the team's top overall prospect according to MLB Pipeline, rises above the rest.

In just two years in the low levels of the Minors, Franco has displayed an innate hitting ability and has skyrocketed through the rankings. At just 18 years old, Franco dominated a pitcher-friendly Florida State League, hitting .339 with three home runs in 52 games with Class A Advanced Charlotte.

As he continues his dominance in the Minors, Franco has made it clear that his goal is to make the Majors sometime during the 2020 season. He’ll likely get started at Double-A Montgomery, but there’s a chance that Franco, who turns 19 on March 1, makes an appearance at Tropicana Field this season.

“If he picks up where he left off last year, I don’t know where that will lead,” said Rays general manager Erik Neander. “But it’s conceivable that there are conversations to be had there deep into this season.”

Neander also said that the club will continue to let Franco develop and that they won’t force a callup if he isn’t ready. Franco has been working out in Port Charlotte for over a month and is hoping that the organization lets him play in a pair of Major League Spring Training games.

The organization, on the other hand, hasn’t committed on Franco appearing in any games, and hasn't officially decided where the phenom will open the season. But one thing's for sure: Franco’s ability is forcing the Rays’ hand already, and he’ll be a prospect to watch over the course of the next six weeks in Spring Training and into the ‘20 season.

“The talent is visible, and there aren’t many guys across baseball that possess the talent that he has,” Neander said. “It’s on us to make sure that as he continues to develop and mature that he’s fully ready to go when he hits the big stage and he hits our Major League club. He’s done a wonderful job of progressing at a quick rate. A rate that we haven’t seen all too often.”

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.