Rays say no injury for Wander Franco, but no more winter ball, either

The top prospect experienced shoulder soreness and biceps inflammation playing in the Dominican Republic.
The Rays said top prospect Wander Franco will not resume winter ball “to ensure he remains fully healthy” heading into the 2021 season.
The Rays said top prospect Wander Franco will not resume winter ball “to ensure he remains fully healthy” heading into the 2021 season. [ WILL VRAGOVIC | Tampa Bay Rays ]
Published Dec. 3, 2020|Updated Dec. 4, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG — Rays top prospect Wander Franco has no structural injury, and the team “no long-term concerns” about the shoulder and biceps issues that sidelined him during winter ball.

But to be sure there are no lingering issues heading into next season, the Rays won’t allow Franco to resume playing in his native Dominican Republic.

The shortstop experienced shoulder soreness, as well as biceps inflammation, after playing five games for Leones del Escogido. When a week’s rest didn’t help, and after an initial exam, the Rays had him fly back to St. Petersburg last week.

A further examination by team orthopedist Dr. Koco Eaton and an MRI “revealed no structural injury and no long-term concerns,” the team said Thursday.

But the Rays also announced that “to ensure he remains fully healthy” heading into the 2021 season, Franco would not rejoin Escogido, for whom he was to play at least three weeks.

“Wander was cleared to resume activities,’' said Carlos Rodriguez, Rays vice president of player development and international scouting. “In talking it over with him, we felt it was best for him to focus on preparing for the 2021 season rather than continuing with winter ball.”

Franco posted his thoughts on Instagram Thursday afternoon, translated from Spanish:

“First of all, thanks to our God for giving me the opportunity, and thanks to @escogidobbclub for always giving me support, thanks to all my teammates for always teaching me more every day, I couldn’t complete all I wanted to due to discomfort in the shoulder but I would like to be there and continue supporting them, but the organization has already stopped me, I wish my lions good luck, I will continue supporting them from afar. #babylion”

Franco, the consensus top prospect in the game, was playing in his first competitive games since a brief winter-ball stint last year. He hit .350 (7-for-20) with one homer, two RBIs and a .935 OPS in the five games.

He played at the Class A level in 2019, then spent 2020 as part of the Rays’ 60-man player pool working out at the alternate site in Port Charlotte. He traveled with the Rays to San Diego and Arlington, Texas, as part of the postseason pool but was not activated at any point, though he benefited from the experience and the exposure.

Franco played in his first big-league, spring-training games in February. He said at the time he hoped to join the Rays sometime during the 2020 season so he could reach the majors as a teenager. While that didn’t happen, he has sights set on reaching the big leagues in 2021.

General manager Erik Neander said Franco’s potential is obvious to all who see him play, but a spot in the majors “is not something that’s just going to be handed to him because he’s a No. 1 prospect.”

Rays sign pitcher David Hess

Right-hander David Hess, who spent parts of the past three seasons with the Orioles, was signed to a minor-league contract. Hess, 27, made his debut in May 2018 (against the Rays), going 3-10, 4.88 in 21 games (19 starts) and then 1-10, 7.09 in 23 games (14 starts) in 2019. He spent most of 2020 at the Orioles’ alternate camp site, making three relief appearances. Overall, he is 4-20, 5.86 in 47 major-league games, allowing 210 hits (51 homers) and 69 walks in 190-1/3 innings while striking out 143.