WanderWatch: The Wait Continues

Wander Franco is caught stealing second base in a 8-7 loss to the Braves on March 15. (Will Vragovic/Tampa Bay Rays)

Wander Franco, Major League Baseball’s No. 1 prospect, was reassigned to minor league camp by the Rays in the first round of spring training cuts. Franco was not expected to make the Opening Day roster.

Former Mariners President/CEO Kevin Mather’s comments regarding service time manipulation of Seattle’s top prospect Jarred Kelenic have brought the issue to the forefront of baseball conversations.

The decisions of the Tampa Bay Rays regarding their top prospects like Wander Franco, the number one prospect in MLB, are being viewed under a microscope, with some fans calling his reassignment a ‘business decision’ instead of a baseball one.

While Franco’s service time is one thing preventing him from cracking the roster, other factors are playing a bigger role in this decision.

Franco and Adames sit in the Rays dugout during the March 15 matchup with the Braves. (Will Vragovic/Tampa Bay Rays)

Franco hasn’t played above High-A. His bat is something to behold, which Rays fans got to witness in the seven games of this spring as he hit 5-for-17.

However, with no Minor League Baseball season played in 2020, Franco’s development rides on the necessity to get consistent playing time against higher level pitching.

Game action and plate appearances in the minors will only help him.

It also allows the Rays to test Franco’s versatility in the infield, playing third or second base outside of shortstop, his primary position as of now.

Some will point to players like Mike Trout and Juan Soto who skipped levels on their way to eventual MLB stardom.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that even the best were called up out of necessity. For example, Trout and Soto were both called up after injuries opened up roster spots.

Also, the Rays have plenty of shortstop depth on their current 40-man roster.

Willy Adames will reprise his role as the starting shortstop and team leader. Joey Wendle and Mike Brosseau have also seen time at the position and are capable of stepping in when needed.

Not to be forgotten is Taylor Walls, who hit .289/.371/.439 and had a 134 wRC+ in his previous two minor league seasons. His defense has even earned comparisons of an “infield Kevin Kiermaier”. Walls will likely start in the minors but should get promoted later in 2021.

Adames has been the anticipated starting shortstop since the beginning of spring training. (Marc Topkin/Tampa Bay Times)

It’s important to note that the Rays are losing just two position players, outfielder/DH Hunter Renfroe and catcher Michael Perez, going into the 2021 season after making it to game six of the 2020 World Series.

Tampa Bay’s offense is shaping up to be as good, if not better than 2020. High expectations surround outfielder Austin Meadows, and Rays fans are eager to see full seasons out of outfielder Randy Arozarena and 1B/3B/DH Yoshi Tsutsugo. Therefore, the Rays are hopeful that Franco’s bat will not be needed, at least in the early stages of the season.

None of this is to say that we won’t see Wander Franco in a Rays jersey at some point in 2021. We could see him sooner if the team is plagued by injuries or poor performances.

However, Franco just turned 20 years old on March 1, so the Rays will promote him when the time is right. They have the depth and the talent to wait. So continue to be patient- it will be worth every minute.