Rays shortstop Wander Franco, the consensus top prospect in all of baseball, will head to Triple-A Durham when the minor league season begins next week, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (Twitter link).
The initial assignment doesn’t provide a concrete timeline for when Franco might be called to the big leagues, but it’s a fairly aggressive placement and one that’s worth noting, given Franco’s status within the game. He only turned 20 years old last month, and an assignment to Durham means he’ll skip the Double-A level entirely. Franco split the 2019 season between Class-A and Class-A Advanced, slashing a combined .327/.398/.487 with nine homers, 27 doubles, seven triples and 18 stolen bases in 495 plate appearances as one of the youngest players in both leagues.
From a service time standpoint, Franco is already well past the point where he could accrue a full year in 2021, meaning the Rays would control him all the way through 2027 regardless of when he’s brought to the Majors. Were he to remain in the minor leagues through late April 2022, they’d gain an extra year of control — through the 2028 campaign — but the general expectation has been that Franco could be in the big leagues this summer. Depending on when he’s called up, he could be in Super Two territory and thus be arbitration-eligible four times. Waiting until late mid or late June would likely keep him from reaching that designation.
There will inevitably be a spotlight placed on Franco and his performance in Durham, just as there will likely be vocal calls for his promotion to the Major Leagues right out of the gate. The early struggles from Tampa Bay shortstop Willy Adames, who has batted just .173/.215/.320 through his first 79 plate appearances, will only further fuel that scenario if the 25-year-old Adames is unable to right the ship.
At the same time, it’s worth remembering that Franco was only 18 years old when the 2019 season ended and that outside of 11 games in the Dominican Winter League, he hasn’t played in a professional game since. The Rays are surely hopeful that when Franco is called to the Majors, he’s ready for the challenge and needn’t ever be sent back to the minors for further development. The fact that he’s bypassing Double-A and going straight to the club’s top affiliate seems like a vote of confidence that he’s on the cusp of such readiness, but he’ll get some vital development time against the most advanced pitching he’s ever faced for the time being.