PORT CHARLOTTE ― Flashes of lightning threatened to shorten Wander Franco’s first day on the job in Port Charlotte, so the Rays’ top prospect decided to make his mark early Tuesday night.
It only took him two pitches.
Franco, batting second for the Charlotte Stone Crabs in his High-A debut, lined the second pitch he saw into leftfield. Fort Myers outfielder Trevor Larnach let the ball slip under his glove, allowing Stone Crabs second baseman Vidal Brujan to score on the play.
“I’m very proud to get a hit the first at-bat,” Franco said through an interpreter. “It’s exciting right now, and I want to continue to do that the rest of the season.”
Franco, 18, did not get credit for an RBI after his first hit, but he still managed to fill up the stat sheet over the course of the game. In the fifth inning, Franco came to the plate again with Brujan on first. On the second pitch of the at-bat, the shortstop ripped a hard grounder to the left side of the infield. Fort Myers shortstop Jose Miranda corralled the ball, but he had no play to catch the speedy middle infielders on the base paths.
Brujan and Franco continued to show off their speed in the next at-bat, pulling off a double steal to put two runners in scoring position.
“I’m paying attention to the catcher and the catcher’s signs,” Brujan said through an interpreter. “I was ready to steal third base.”
Franco, meanwhile, just kept his eyes on Brujan.
“If Brujan goes, I’m going too,” Franco said.
Shortly after the double steal, Brujan came around to score on a wild pitch, giving the Stone Crabs a 2-0 lead that would hold for the rest of the game.
Franco reached base a third time in the seventh inning, taking four consecutive balls to earn his first walk in High-A. Two pitches later he chased after his second steal of the day, but Fort Myers catcher David Banuelos gunned him down at second base.
On the defensive side of the field, Franco made all the plays at shortstop, but the highlight of the night came in the closing moments of the game. With two outs in the top of the ninth inning, Larnach flared a pop up to shallow centerfield. Franco, Brujan and centerfielder Carl Chester converged on the ball as it dropped to the outfield grass. Franco quickly scooped the ball off the turf and threw out Larnach at second base trying to stretch the single into a double to end the game.
Franco finished the day 2-for-3 at the plate in front of 1,233 at Charlotte Sports Park. Entering play on Tuesday, he hit .318/.390/.506 in 62 games with Single-A Bowling Green. He brought his hot bat to Port Charlotte, showing off why he is so well regarded by scouts and the Rays front office. Franco is ranked as the No. 1 overall prospect on the most recent rankings from MLB Pipeline.
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“I feel so happy because my dream is always to play every year at different levels,” Franco said. “I’m going to try to enjoy this game right now and try to do the best I can for the team.”