The Rays have decided the future is now and are calling up top prospect Wander Franco on Tuesday.
Franco, 20, has been playing for Triple-A Durham, where he is hitting .315 with seven homers, 35 RBIs and a .954 OPS in 39 games. He was told the news as the Bulls were busing from Norfolk, Va., to Jacksonville for their next series.
Franco, the multi-talented, switch-hitting infielder, will instead head to Tropicana Field for the opener of a three-game series against the Red Sox on Tuesday night.
Reliever Drew Rasmussen, who made an impressive debut Saturday, was optioned back to Triple-A to make room on the 26-man active roster. A spot also also has to be cleared on the 40-man roster.
Franco, who will wear No. 5, is expected to become a regular in the Rays’ lineup starting Tuesday and — they hope — quickly one of their best players.
He is a natural shortstop, but given how well rookie Taylor Walls has played since his May 22 callup, Franco is likely to also spend time at third base. He eventually get time at second, as well.
With Franco aboard, the Rays will rotate playing time among their other infielders, maximizing matchups and getting rest for Ji-Man Choi, Yandy Diaz, Brandon Lowe, Walls and Joey Wendle.
Franco, named the consensus top prospect in the game for two straight years, said this spring he felt he was ready to join the Rays. And that was despite not having played above the Class A level or anywhere competitively since 2019 except for five games in winter ball.
“I’m ready to play in the big leagues,” Franco said in February via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “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.”
The Rays wanted him to get some experience at the Triple-A level, both in terms of facing higher competition and learning to deal with success and failure. Likely also a factor was waiting to get past the projected mid-June cutoff for Super 2 eligibility for a fourth year of arbitration, though it’s not known if that system will be part of the next labor agreement.
Franco has been highly touted since signing with the Rays in July 2017 for a $3.85 million bonus and impressed in his first two minor-league seasons.
In 2018, he hit .351 in 61 games for rookie-level Princeton with 11 homers, 57 RBIs, a 1.004 OPS and a strikeout/walk ratio of 19/27.
Splitting 2019 between Class A Bowling Green and Charlotte, he hit .327 with nine homers, 53 RBIs, an .885 OPS and a strikeout/walk ratio of 35/56.
Franco spent last summer working at the alternate training site in Port Charlotte and accompanied the Rays throughout the postseason as a member of their expanded taxi squad. He was invited to major-league spring training this year and showed well in 16 games, hitting .257 with one (massive) homer, three RBI and a .669 OPS.
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At 20 years, 3 months and 21 days old on Tuesday, he will be the second-youngest player in Rays history at the time of his debut. B.J. Upton was 19 years, 11 months and 10 days in 2004.
Franco comes from a baseball family. His father and two older brothers, all also named Wander, played in the minor leagues. Two uncles played in the majors, Erick and Willy Aybar, who was with the Rays.
Franco was the fourth player to be ranked the game’s top prospect in consecutive years by Baseball America; the other three turned out pretty well: Andruw Jones, Joe Mauer and Bryce Harper.
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