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Rays’ Wander Franco: ‘I’m ready to play in the big leagues’

Rays notes | The consensus top prospect, who turns 20 Monday, hasn’t played above Class A. But he is confident he can handle the challenge.
Rays infielder Wander Franco exits the batting cages during warmups on the first day of full-squad workouts Tuesday at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte.
Rays infielder Wander Franco exits the batting cages during warmups on the first day of full-squad workouts Tuesday at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Feb. 27
Updated Feb. 27

PORT CHARLOTTE — Wander Franco turns 20 on Monday.

He’s pretty set on what he wants as a gift, and it can come anytime in the next several months.

“I’m ready to play in the big leagues,” Franco said Saturday via team interpreter Manny Navarro on a media Zoom call. “I’m ready to achieve the goal that I’ve been trying to achieve since I was a little kid, to make it up to the big leagues.”

Franco, as you may have heard, is the consensus top prospect in the game for a second straight season, the switch-hitting shortstop projected about as close to can’t-miss as one can be.

But because Franco is so young, hasn’t played about the Class A level (and not in any minor-league games last season), the Rays typically aren’t aggressive in promoting prospects, and they have a pretty good shortstop in Willy Adames, starting at Double-A, or possibly Triple-A, is more likely.

Franco gets that.

“It’s not in my control,” he said. “If they send me to Double-A, or wherever they send me, my job is to work. I’ve had plenty of opportunities in the past, and I’m just going to continue with every opportunity that I get.”

Because the Rays have Adames, 25, and several other shortstop prospects in the system, there has been speculation Franco (a muscular 5 feet 10, 190 pounds) could be moved to second or third base. Or, given the Rays’ preference for positional versatility, he could at least get some work there during what is his first big-league camp, or during the season.

Franco said team officials “really haven’t talked about that” with him yet, but “if an opportunity arises where I’ve got to play second base or third base, I’ll play.”

Franco’s goal is to do everything he can, physically and mentally, with no specific area of his game needing attention, to show he is ready: “This year I’m really just focused on getting into the big leagues.”

Game plan

The Rays start exhibition play Sunday, hosting the Braves, and manager Kevin Cash said games during the first week will be planned for seven full innings in accordance with league-wide protocols and roster limits. The exception is Tuesday’s game against the Red Sox, which — because it’s being televised nationally by ESPN — will be the standard nine innings. The plan is designed to limit the number of pitchers needed to cover innings, but it will also result in fewer opportunities for some position players. Cash plans to start most of his frontline players Sunday, including Randy Arozarena, Brandon Lowe and Adames, but said they may get only one at-bat.

Miscellany

• First baseman Ji-Man Choi was not on the field for Saturday’s workout. Cash said Choi’s right knee was sore, likely from “overwork,” and he won’t play as planned Sunday but otherwise should be fine.

• Infielder Joey Wendle said he made a slight change to his grip on the bat designed to give him more power (though he still isn’t wearing batting gloves.) Also, he has started throwing a football to work on arm strength.

• There were plenty of quality pitches and good swings on the back fields Saturday, but Cash said he was most impressed with how sharp the infielders were taking ground balls, something they don’t often do during the winter. That included Yandy Diaz and Yoshi Tsutsugo at third, Adames and Wendle at short, Vidal Brujan and Lowe at second, and Mike Brosseau at first.

Sunday’s game

Rays vs. Braves, 1:05 p.m., Charlotte Sports Park

Tickets: Sold out

Radio: 620-AM

Pitchers: Rays, RH Chris Ellis, Hunter Strickland, Jeffrey Springs, Andrew Kittredge; Braves, TBA