ST. PETERSBURG — Wander Franco is not coming to the rescue any time soon.
While incredibly talented, fully deserving of the consensus top prospect status and likely headed to a long, impactful and awards-filled Rays career, Franco is going to play in the minors for a while. At least several more weeks, maybe months.
Yes, Franco got off to a hot start at Triple-A Durham, going 5-for-9 with a home run in his first two games. And through Friday he had a solid .314 average, two homers, six RBIs and a .990 OPS over nine games.
But he is still only 20, went nearly 19 months without competitive games and is playing for the first time above Class A (having skipped Double-A).
That all matters. There are things beyond a couple of good games for him to be pronounced “ready,” as some with microphones and Twitter accounts have done.
Rays officials, who know a few things about player development, are wise to want to see him play for a month or so before even starting to think about whether they should consider promoting him. To see how much success Franco has at an advanced level. To see how he handles failure. To see how he learns to make adjustments and from mistakes.
Minor-league teams are now playing six-game series. After going 5-for-9 in the first two games against Memphis, Franco was 2-for-14 over the next three. Normal ebb and flow, or did the Redbirds pitchers figure something out?
Also, the Rays will be wise to see how he handles himself as the youngest player in either Triple-A league.
Franco hit an undoubtedly impressive 450-foot homer on May 8, but, given the game situation — the Bulls leading 14-3 in the ninth — he admired it a little too much. Enough so that the next day he was hit on the first pitch of the game.
In Tuesday’s home opener, he struck out to end the third and didn’t run hard to first as the ball went to the backstop, then was juggled by the catcher and was still thrown out easily, with some Bulls fans noticing. (For what it’s worth, on Thursday and Friday, Franco was hustling hard all over the field.)
General manager Erik Neander said there is plenty to be evaluated with Franco, as well as other young prospects making their Triple-A debuts, such as Vidal Brujan and Taylor Walls.
“Just to let them have those experiences, the development extends beyond just the results in the box score,” Neander said. “Just living the Triple-A level and all that comes with it, all the considerations that help prepare you to be major-league player. Want to see some of that through.”
The Rays, by philosophy, are more likely to be slower in calling up top prospects than aggressive, refusing to give in to pressures, internal or external, to move fast, wanting to be “more” sure a player is ready, and avoiding the confidence crusher of sending him back.
Also, they definitely want to avoid putting a young player in a role of being cast as a “savior” as Franco might be if the Rays offense still was struggling when he was summoned.
There could be some financial risk in calling up Franco before mid-June as he could gain Super 2 status for a fourth year of arbitration eligibility. That also could be a non-issue as the system may change with the new labor agreement coming after the season.
Exploring signing Franco to a long-term deal first might make sense, but given his expectations for his career, and the market set by Fernando Tatis’ 14-year, $330 million contract, an agreement seems unlikely.
What this should come down to, more than anything, is when the Rays think Franco is ready to come up best positioned to succeed.
Current shortstop Willy Adames’ offensive struggles could influence that. As could an injury to any of their infielders. But as of today, Brujan and Walls, both already on the 40-man roster (Franco is not), would be more likely to be called up than Franco if the decision was forced.
Eventually, the Rays expect Franco to go on to do great things. For now, he isn’t going anywhere.
Mets first baseman Pete Alonso said Rays outfielder Brett Phillips, his former travel ball teammate, is “just an Energizer Bunny. He’s a great guy. Awesome human being.” … There’s a reason TV analyst Brian Anderson is without his mustache: Having vision issues, which led to him now wearing glasses, he grabbed the wrong trimmer attachment one day and shaved off a chunk rather than trim his ‘stache. … Pitcher Shane McClanahan is looking forward to the trip to Baltimore, having lived in the area until he was 7 and attended many Orioles games. … The second part of the “road trip” is a four-game series again the Blue Jays — in Dunedin, the final games there. Rays players and staff will stay at home, rather than a hotel, and drive to TD Ballpark. … Though the Rays didn’t get much for their $11.25 million (pandemic-adjusted) investment in Tsutsugo, Neander said they’re “not going to be afraid” to pursue other hitters from Japan nor “change our processes when it comes to how we evaluate talent over there.” … With the Lightning playing Tuesday, the Rays-Orioles game gets bumped from Bally Sports Sun to Bally Sports Florida. … In striking out nine Yankees at 41 years and 63 days old Thursday, Rich Hill joined an impressive group. The only other 41-or-older pitchers to fan nine or more Yankees? Nolan Ryan and Cy Young. … Jim Bowden had McClanahan sixth on his list of most impressive rookie pitchers for The Athletic, but wrote that the lefty “has the best stuff of any rookie pitcher, period.” … Ex-Ray Sean Gilmartin, the lefty reliever married to Tampa native and former White House spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany, is signed with the independent league Long Island Ducks. ... The ProWire real-time audio streaming technology added for Lightning games at Amalie Arena, allowing access to in-game commentary, live mics and team content via mobile devices, would seem like an interesting option to explore at the Trop.
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