The Rays will add uber-prospect Wander Franco to their 60-man player pool, according to Jesse Sanchez and Juan Toribio of MLB.com. He’ll participate in the pre-season ramp up and be eligible to continue training with the team during the season.
As with the Tigers, and surely all other teams, the Rays are considering developmental prerogatives alongside competitive demands in deciding which players will participate in Summer Training and be available as the season gets underway. Franco, the consensus top prospect in baseball, will get invaluable experience to help make up for what’s tracking to be a lost minor-league season.
Just because Franco is in the player pool does not mean he’ll debut in 2020. The preternatural hitter could likely hold his own in the majors already, but he doesn’t even need to be added to the 40-man roster until next winter.
It’s certainly possible — expected, really — that Franco will force his way onto the big league club before the team must grant him MLB status to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. And that could yet occur in the sprint of a campaign we’re about to witness.
The odds of a 2020 debut likely went downhill when the coronavirus intervened, as Franco won’t have the chance to get reps (and put up outlandish offensive numbers) in the upper minors. The 19-year-old has been outstanding at every level thus far — in particular, his unmatched plate discipline jumps off the page — but he has yet to appear above the High-A level.
Franco may yet force the hand of the Tampa Bay brass in training, though it’s likelier that any promotion to the active and 40-man rosters would occur if a need and/or opportunity arises. This short season format could give the Rays a stronger chance of toppling the division-favorite Yankees or at least snatching a Wild Card. While service time will surely weigh in the calculus, the ability to call upon a unique talent may prove compelling.
For now, the key point is that Franco’s foot is in the door. At minimum, he’s on track to polish off his development in 2020. If he doesn’t debut this year, it’s reasonably likely we’ll be holding service time manipulation debates next spring.