It’s Wander Time: Tampa Bay Rays Call Up Prized Prospect Wander Franco
By Kasey Kuhrts
It’s finally time. On Sunday, the Tampa Bay Rays announced they were calling up the number one prospect in Major League Baseball, Wander Franco. Franco will join the team on Tuesday at Tropicana Field when the Rays start a series with the Boston Red Sox.
Although it is earlier than most expected, the Tampa Bay Rays have lost six straight games, and need some help. But hey, a wise person once said, there’s no time like the present. The Rays front office must have listened.
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Who is Wander Franco?
You have likely heard the name, but do you know the story? Wander Franco has been a name Rays fans have heard for a few years now, but why is there so much buzz around this guy?
Franco signed with the Rays as an international free agent in July of 2017, at only 16-years-old. Franco made his professional debut in 2018, as he was a member of the Rays rookie-ball team, the Princeton Rays.
Franco spent the entire 2018 season with Princeton and won the 2018 Appalachian League Player of the Year award. In only 61 games, Franco slashed .351/.418/.587 with 11 home runs, and 57 RBI’s.
Obviously, that brought much attention to Franco, as he was ranked as high as fourth in the top -100 prospect rankings on all the major sites. With the recognition, Wander received a promotion.
Franco started the 2019 season with the Low-A Bowling Green Hot Rods, but was moved up after only 62 games with them. Wander slashed .318/.390/.506 with Bowling Green, racking up 29 RBI’s as well.
Franco was promoted to High-A Charlotte of the Florida State League in June of 2019 and continued to hit. Wander hit well over .300 in 52 games with Charlotte, and finished 2019 with a .327 batting average between both clubs.
Wander Franco started the 2020 season ranked as the number one prospect in Major League Baseball according to Baseball America, MLB.com, and Baseball Prospectus. A very high honor.
However, as you know, there was no minor league season in 2020, so we never saw Franco in 2020. This brings us to 2021.
Franco once again started the season as the number one ranked prospect on Baseball America, MLB.com, and Baseball Prospectus, and lived up to the hype.
Franco started 2021 in Triple-A Durham, skipping Double-A all together. Some thought he may struggle a bit, that was not the case.
In 39 games with Durham this season, Wander is slashing .315/.367/.586 with seven home runs, and 35 RBI’s. The power has really come on in 2021, which is why the Rays likely made this move.
In his minor league totals, Wander has a career .332 batting average, 27 home runs, 145 RBI’s in only 214 career games.
Oh, and by the way, he’s only 20.
What to expect from Wander Franco?
Look, folks, I’m going to be very upfront, this guy might be, “it.” I don’t want to get carried away, but this guy looks to be the real deal.
This isn’t a usual prospect, this is a Bryce Harper, Alex Gordon, Kris Bryant, Jason Heyward-type hype. To be clear, I am not comparing Franco to any of these guys, but big followers of prospects will remember the hype around Gordon and Heyward. Bryant and Harper had national hype, as Franco does.
And, to be frank, if Franco was an American-born player, he would have been on the cover of Sports Illustrated already, as Harper was.
Comparing Wander Franco to other Rays prospects
Now, the Tampa Bay Rays have had their fair share of big-time prospects. The two easy ones that come to mind are Evan Longoria and David Price. Most people want to compare Franco to Longoria, when the actual comparison is to Price, I’ll explain.
Evan Longoria was the third overall pick in the 2006 MLB Draft. Prior to 2007, Longoria was already ranked inside the top ten in all of the major top-prospect lists and reached as high as number two in 2008. However, most people had a feel of what Longoria was.
Longoria was a prototypical third baseman. He was going to hit for power, with a decent average, and play solid defense, which he did for ten years in Tampa, but there was never a Bryce Harper feeling around Longoria.
Now, with that being said, David Price had the hype. Price was selected number one overall in the 2007 MLB Draft and was ranked highly among prospect rankings. Now, if you remember, Price didn’t even play a full year in the minors, as he pitched to a 12-1 record in 19 minor league games, among three leagues, and was called up to help the Rays in 2008.
With more time in the minors, Price would have been without a doubt the number one prospect in baseball, but he didn’t need it. Until Wander Franco came along, David Price was the franchise phenom for the Rays, but that has changed.
Wander Franco: Risk Vs. Reward
For every great prospect, there are a lot that don’t work out, I.E. Tim Beckham. However, we don’t have to look far to see an example of poor management of prospects.
Earlier in the season Jarred Kelenic, the number one prospect in the Seattle Mariners organization, was called up from Triple-A, and Mariners fans were losing their minds, much as we are today.
Kelenic received a standing ovation in his first at-bat and was loved from the get-go. However, 23 games, and 83 at-bats later, Kelenic is back in Triple-A after only recording eight hits, and 26 strikeouts.
Now, sure, there is a risk of that for Franco, again he is only 20. But Kelenic and Franco are much different players.
Kelenic was no stranger to the strikeout in the minors and was exposed in the majors. Franco hasn’t been known to strike out often, however, he has K’d 21 times in 39 games with Durham, compared to only 35 K’s in 114 games in 2019.
Wander Franco: Overall Thoughts
This is a great day for Tampa Bay Rays fans, and you should be excited to watch. Lots of Rays Twitter has posted about getting tickets for tonight’s game at the Trop, which I advocate for if you can make it.
I have tickets for tonight’s Durham Bulls game in Jacksonville, as I was hoping to see Wander and the rest of the first-place Durham Bulls. However, I might have to stay home and watch Wander on TV instead.
This guy has the ability to become “appointment TV” and it all gets going tonight. The first pitch from Tropicana Field is expected at 7:10 PM EST from the opener, Andrew Kittredge.