ST. PETERSBURG — Shortstop Wander Franco, the top prospect not just in the Rays system but the entire game, was traded Sunday ...
... from the Gigantes team in the Dominican winter league to Escogido.
The deal, billed as an “eight-player mega trade,‘' is somewhat unusual, but teams in that league are sometimes built to accommodate players and encourage them to participate.
Escogido plays in the capital city of Santo Domingo, which is less than one hour from Franco’s home in Bani, compared to about two hours to the home base of the Gigantes, who made him the top pick in the draft last year but for whom he played only six games.
Escogido is one of the most popular teams, and Franco’s uncle, ex-Ray Willy Aybar, played for them. Of further note, Escogido shares a stadium with Licey, the team Franco’s family grew up rooting for.
“Wander is an impact bat that Escogido has been needing in recent seasons and allows us to fulfill the plan that we set out to acquire athletic players in the middle of the lineup,” general manager José Gómez Frías said, in Spanish, per escogido.com.
Another factor for players is the makeup of the organization and its philosophy on playing prospects versus veterans. Frias said Escogido understands winter ball will be a key part of development for Franco, who turned 19 on March 1.
The Rays had no involvement in the trade, which also sent outfielder Roberto Caro and pitchers Rhiner Cruz and Diego Cordero to Escogido. The return package to the Gigantes was highlighted by shortstop Oneil Cruz, the Pirates’ No. 3 prospect per mlb.com, plus first baseman Randy Cesar and pitchers José Cisnero and Carlos Pimentel.
Franco on Sunday was included on the Rays’ 60-man player pool roster for the 2020 season, but it seems unlikely that he will play in the majors this season.
* Though pitcher Brent Honeywell is recovering well from his latest elbow procedure, GM Erik Neander said he was not healthy enough to have a spot in the pool, and thus was the only player on the 40-man roster excluded. If the Rays need the spot to add someone to the 40-man roster, they could move Honeywell to the 45-day injured list, but he then would get major-league service time.
* Outfielder Yoshi Tsutsugo is expected to be back from Japan by Wednesday’s reporting day, when players will undergo COVID-19 testing before being cleared to start workouts. Players already in the Tampa Bay area will start testing on Monday. The first workout is Friday.
* Non-roster pitcher Dylan Covey may be considered at higher risk for COVID-19 since he has Type 1 diabetes but is planning to be part of the group in Port Charlotte. Neander said the Rays and their medical staff have talked with Covey and will be responsive to any concerns he has. “He’s in the group, and he’s expecting to be a part of it,‘' Neander said.
* Neander said the Rays haven’t decided if they will schedule any exhibition games; teams are allowed up to three. One option would be to play the Blue Jays if they end up holding their camp in Dunedin. A decision is expected soon on whether they will be there or get governmental permission to be in Toronto.
* Field coordinator Michael Johns and pitching development director Dewey Robinson will run the Port Charlotte camp with help from Triple-A pitching coach Rick Knapp and other members of the minor-league staff.