A full timeline of Wander’s notable moments

June 23rd, 2021

So we know is a Major Leaguer. That’s huge news. The Rays infielder is MLB Pipeline’s top overall prospect, which made him the first No. 1 talent to debut at the game’s top level since Vladimir Guerrero Jr. on April 26, 2019. That’s right, the lack of a 2020 Minor League season due to the coronavirus pandemic and Franco’s young age and relative lack of experience meant it had been more than two years since a No. 1 overall prospect reached the Majors for the first time. This made it an event worthy of celebration.

Franco rose to this level on the strength of his 80-grade hit tool -- only the second such grade given out by MLB Pipeline in 10 years -- and potential to show plus power as a switch-hitter. To better understand how he reached this level of hype, let’s revisit some of Franco’s most notable moments during his time in affiliated ball up to his big league debut:

The signing
Franco was ranked as the No. 2 international prospect during the 2017-18 signing period, behind some guy named , and even then, he still might have been best-known as the nephew of Major League infielders Erick and Willy Aybar. Those who saw him in his native Dominican Republic already highlighted his impressive hitting ability from both sides, including his hand-eye coordination and exciting bat speed. The Rays signed the 16-year-old for $3,825,000 on July 2, 2017, and haven’t looked back since.

The opening assignment
It’s aggressive enough to send an international prospect stateside for his first Minor League season. It’s another to have him skip complex ball entirely and place him in a league with actual stadiums. That’s exactly what the Rays did with Franco when they sent him to Rookie Advanced Princeton in June 2018, rather than the Dominican Summer or Gulf Coast Leagues. Franco was the only 17-year-old to get enough at-bats to qualify for the Appalachian League batting title that season. He eventually finished fourth in that race with a .351 average over 61 games. It appeared Tampa Bay knew just how much to push the shortstop.

The first pro homer
Franco’s first long ball came on June 26 in the second game of Princeton’s doubleheader at Bluefield. Despite the aggressive assignment, he started out on OK footing by going 6-for-24 (.250) with only three strikeouts in his first six Appy League games, but an extra-base hit eluded him to that point. That ended quickly when he went deep to right-center in his first at-bat of the seventh contest of the season. The dinger came off fellow teenaged phenom , who was ranked as the No. 6 international talent in the same window as Franco. The homer marked the only run of the game in Princeton’s 1-0 victory on the road.

The 25-game hitting streak
That homer in the second contest on June 26 was Franco’s only knock of that particular game and extended his hitting streak to a modest three games. That run would eventually go all the way to 25 games before it ended on July 25, making it the longest hitting streak of Franco’s career to this point. He hit .408/.442/.709 over 113 plate appearances in that span. He homered six times. He struck out six times. If any prospect watchers didn’t have their eyes opened to Franco’s potential yet, they were certainly hip to it by the end of July 2018.

The cycle, two-homer game
Folded into the front half of that 25-game hitting streak was Franco’s first homer. Folded into the back half was perhaps his best single-game performance as a professional. The switch-hitter homered, tripled and homered again in his first three at-bats against Pulaski on July 14, 2018. That marked the first multihomer game of his career, and it was accomplished before the end of the fourth inning. He added a single in the fifth and a double in the seventh to round out the cycle. It remains the only five-hit game of Franco’s career to this point. “He'll go through his bumps -- up and down,” Princeton manager Danny Sheaffer told MiLB.com after the game, “but I think the ups are going to be a lot more than the downs."

The first month of 2019
Franco’s series of successes added lots of steam to his hype train, and he entered 2019 as MLB Pipeline's No. 13 overall prospect before he even set foot on a full-season field. That changed in April when he was assigned to Class A Bowling Green. Like he had done at Princeton, Franco took to his new club quickly and performed like someone much older than 18. He hit .311 and posted a .961 OPS over 20 games with the Hot Rods that month. As has often been the case, he finished with more extra-base hits (11) -- including two homers on April 25 alone -- than strikeouts (nine), further cementing his place as one of the Minors’ most feared hitters.

The ascent to No. 1
Guerrero, and opened 2019 as some of the most prominent prospects ranked higher than Franco on MLB Pipeline’s list. When Tatis graduated from prospect status on June 15, none of those three were left. Franco became the No. 1 overall prospect in the game and hasn’t relinquished the title since.

The hot start at a new level
Franco’s first in-season promotion came in late June 2019. He had hit .318/.390/.506 over 62 games with Bowling Green, and the Rays deemed it necessary to find their star prospect a fresh challenge. That meant a move to Class A Advanced Charlotte. There wasn’t much of a challenge, however. Franco put together multihit performances in each of his four games with the Stone Crabs, going 9-for-15 (.600) with a pair of homers.

The Futures Game
Given his performance at every level, it came as no surprise that Franco was added to the American League roster for the 2019 All-Star Futures Game in Cleveland, but it was notable once again that he was the youngest player on either squad at just 18. Not only that, Franco started at shortstop and led off for the AL. He struck out looking against Braves right-hander Ian Anderson in the first inning and singled off a 95.6 mph sinker from then-Mets left-hander Anthony Kay in the fourth. He was replaced at shortstop by top Twins prospect an inning later.

The final FSL tear
The teenager couldn’t end his first full season without going on one last incredible run with Charlotte. Franco picked up hits in 14 of his last 15 games with Charlotte, going 24-for-61 (.393) from Aug. 10-29. No other Florida State Leaguer hit above .380 over that stretch. While others were wilting at the end of a long campaign, Franco only seemed to be getting stronger.

The World Series tease
The canceled Minor League season robbed us of more Franco moments in 2020, but he did manage to sneak one in right before the year was up. The infielder spent the entire Major League regular season at Tampa Bay’s alternate site in Port Charlotte, Fla., facing typically upper-level competition. He impressed the Rays enough as a 19-year-old for the club to give him a spot on the postseason taxi squad, where he was kept handy in case of any playoff emergencies. Before Game 1 of the Fall Classic, Franco gave Rays fans and prospect heads everywhere a shock when he posted a picture of his World Series jersey to his Instagram story. The uniform, however, was also in case of emergencies. It was never used as Franco remained on the taxi squad while the Rays fell to the Dodgers in six games in Arlington.

The Spring Training blast
Whatever Franco highlights we lost out on in 2020 we gained back this spring. Stepping to the plate in his third Grapefruit League game of 2021, Franco -- batting left-handed -- launched a first-pitch fastball from Pirates right-hander Miguel Yajure out of Charlotte Sports Park on March 3. Literally out. The ball cleared not only the stadium but also a Rays office building beyond right field. “I think that just showcases how truly special a player Wander Franco is,” Shane McClanahan said afterwards. “Kid’s 19 years old, 20 years old, and he’s putting balls over buildings.”

The Triple-A debut
After a lengthy look in Spring Training, the Rays decided to open Franco with Durham, making him the youngest player on a Triple-A Opening Day roster. The switch-hitter justified the assignment quickly out of the gate with a triple in the fourth inning for his first Triple-A hit. He finished 3-for-5 with a stolen base and two RBIs in the Bulls’ 7-5 win at Memphis. You wouldn’t have to look far for Franco’s last three-hit performance before this one. It came in his final showing of 2019 with Charlotte on Aug. 29, making this technically back-to-back three-hit Minor League games for the game’s top prospect.

The first grand slam
Franco entered Durham’s May 15 matchup with Jacksonville with 22 career home runs. None of them were grand slams. That changed when he lifted a grand salami over Durham’s Blue Monster in left-center, going the opposite way off Jumbo Shrimp right-handed starter Alexander Guillen. It was Franco’s only hit in six at-bats that night. But all the same, it provided one big reminder: Every game featuring Wander Franco is an opportunity for a big moment.

The call
Can an entire month be considered a moment? We’ll still count it since Franco’s incredible June led to his summons to The Show. The switch-hitter posted a .371/.405/.686 line over 17 games in his final month with Durham. Typical to his style, he had more extra-base hits (12) than strikeouts (10) in that time. As of Sunday, his 26 hits and four triples were the most by any Triple-A player in the season’s second month. Again, this came from a 20-year-old. Franco became the first 2001-born player in the history of the Major Leagues when he debuted on June 22. Speaking of which...

The MLB debut
Where to begin? Franco's arrival in the Majors was arguably the most highly anticipated debut in the sport since Guerrero arrived on the scene in 2019, and he did not disappoint in the slightest. Batting from the right side, Franco lifted a low slider from Red Sox left-handed starter Eduardo Rodriguez over the wall in left for his first Major League hit and home run in the fifth inning. The long ball was a three-run shot that knotted the game at 5-5. Before that, he walked on six pitches in his first plate appearance in the first and flew out to deep center in the third. His second hit at the top level came when he roped a sharp double to left in the seventh. There was a chance for massive heroics when Franco stepped to the plate with a runner on first and one out in the ninth of a still-tied game, but he bounced back to Boston closer Matt Barnes. The game's top overall prospect finished 2-for-4 with a walk from the second spot in the Tampa Bay lineup. He drove in or scored all but one of the Rays' runs in a 9-5, 11-inning loss. He accounted for two of the club's farthest-hit balls of the night. He had three of the club's 10 hard-hit balls (batted balls with an exit velocity of 95 mph or higher). Most importantly, Wander Franco arrived in the Majors.