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Rays 2021 Season Preview: What do you do with a Wander Franco?

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Wander Franco has received an invitation to the big league camp, a great start to his 2021.

Minor League Baseball: Florida Fire Frogs at Charlotte Stone Crabs Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

On March 1st, 2021, Wander Samuel Franco will turn 20 years old.

Also on March 1st, 2021, Wander Samuel Franco will be a part of the Major League squad in Spring Training for the Tampa Bay Rays.

The game’s number one top prospect for the past two years is considered a generational talent with an unbelievable ability to make contact at the plate. He has been given an 80 grade hit tool by various sites and we even touted as having 80 Future Value by FanGraphs, a grade that they themselves have said that they would never attribute to a player.

He is one of just four players to be ranked as the number one prospect in the game by Baseball America in consecutive seasons, joining Joe Mauer, Andruw Jones, and Bryce Harper. There are only a few faults that can be found in his game: he isn’t as good at the plate from the right side and as his frame develops, he may have to move from short stop to third base. If those are the only complaints about a prospect, you have truly stumbled onto a special talent.

Thus far throughout his minor league career (two seasons), Wander Franco has hit .336/.405/.523 with 20 HR over 768 plate appearances. He has a higher walk percentage (10.8%) than strikeout percentage (7.0%), while also possessing the speed to attempt to steal some bases every now and then, although he hasn’t been too successful when it comes to actually achieving the steal (22 steals in 39 attempts, 56%).

Most recently, while playing as one of the youngest players in the offensively suppressed Florida State League, Franco hit .339/.408/.464 with 3 HR garnering a 157 wRC+ over 223 plate appearances.

However, despite all the talent that he possesses, Franco still hasn’t played above Single-A. This is due to the pandemic causing the cancellation of the 2020 minor league baseball season. Still, the Rays felt confident enough in his abilities to add him to their postseason player pool last October. Although the Rays never called upon him, they put themselves in the position to make that call if the situation determined it.

On the Rays depth chart, there is not shortage of middle infielders with Willy Adames as the Rays starting shortstop, along with Joey Wendle and Brandon Lowe on the right side; plus, Mike Brosseau filling in whatever capacity that he is needed. Franco also has the disadvantage of not being on the 40-man roster, while fellow prospects Taylor Walls and Vidal Brujan posses spots on the roster.

Despite these potential blockages, the Rays still felt that Franco warranted an invitation to the big league spring training camp, meaning that the uberprospect will at least receive prolonged look at Major League quality pitching staffs and defense.

If not for the pandemic and the minor league season being cancelled in 2020, there is a very good chance that Wander Franco could have already made his big league debut. During his initial press conference last Spring, Rays General Manager Erik Neander alluded to as much when he said:

“if he picks up where he left off last year, I don’t know where that’ll lead, but it’s conceivable to think that there’s conversations to be had there deep into this season.’’

That is Neander’s long-about way of saying, “Wander Franco will be promoted soon.” Unfortunately, the pandemic halted those plans.

Thankfully, Wander Franco has gotten his first taste of big league action on the playoff taxi squad, and will be playing with the big leaguers at least in the early stages of spring training, where his elite hand-eye coordination can be put to the test.

His path to the Major League roster right now is seemingly blocked, and the Rays have yet to try him outside of short, but one has to wonder if the Rays could make a few moves in order to clear a path for the game’s top prospect as soon as this season too, either by clearing shortstops out of his way, or by shifting the star prospect to third.