Wander Franco

From BR Bullpen

Note: This page is for infielder Wander Franco who made his major league debut in 2021; for others with the same name click here.

Wander Samuel Franco

  • Bats Both, Throws Right
  • Height 5' 10", Weight 189 lb.

BR page

Biographical Information[edit]

Shortstop Wander Franco was signed as an international free agent by the Tampa Bay Rays on July 2, 2017. His signing bonus was reported to be $3.83 million, as he was considered the top international prospect eligible to be signed that year. He was still just 16, having dropped out of school before his teenage years to pursue his baseball dreams. He shares his name with two older brothers, Wander Javier Franco and Wander Alexander Franco who began their pro careers in 2012 and 2014, respectively. His father was also named Wander and played baseball, although never in organized baseball; he is also the nephew of Willy Aybar and Erick Aybar.

Wander made his pro debut in 2018 with the Princeton Rays and set the Appalachian League ablaze, hitting .351/.418/.587 in 61 games. He hit 10 doubles, 7 triples and 11 homers, scored 46 runs and drove in 57. He was named the league's Player of the Year and was named to a slew of All-Star teams. He did not let up in 2019 as he continued to burn his way through the minors, tearing two circuits in which he was one of the youngest players: he hit .318 in 62 games for the Bowling Green Hot Rods of the Midwest League, and .339 in 52 games for the Charlotte Stone Crabs in the Florida State League. He was the youngest player to take part in the 2019 Futures Game and was named a post-season All-Star in both leagues he played in, as well as an organizational All-Star. His combined batting line in 114 games was an eye-popping .327/.398/.487 with 82 runs scored. His great season earned him comparisons with the previous year's minor league phenom, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. For example, both had earned the extremely rare perfect 80 grade given by scouts for their raw hitting ability. Experts also pointed out that the two had followed the exact same path through the minors, albeit two years apart, and that Franco had put up even better numbers than Guerrero - although Guerrero had already established that he could hit major league pitching at that point, something that is never a given, which gave him an advantage.

However, the Rays decided to keep Franco off the major league roster in 2020, and given the lack of minor league competition, it means that he spent the year at the team's alternate training site where the only action was simulated games. There were regular rumors that he would be called up as some point, all the way until the World Series (a few other top prospects made their debut in the postseason that year), but it never happened. The question heading into 2021 was how much that year without true competition would cost him in terms of development at a crucial stage in his career. He moved up all the way to AAA when the minor league season started, skipping a couple of levels, to join the Durham Bulls. He hit .315 over the first 39 games, with 11 doubles, 6 triples and 7 homers, as well as 35 RBIs, before the Rays announced on June 20th that he was being called up to the majors. The first-place Rays had lost six in a row at that point. He made his debut on June 22nd, starting at third base against the Boston Red Sox, and it was a good one. He went 2 for 4 with a double, a homer and a walk, scoring twice and driving in three runs even though the Rays lost again, 9-5. His homer was a three-run shot in the 5th inning off Eduardo Rodriguez. On August 31st, he reached base in his 31st straight game, giving the 5th longest such streak in history for a player 21 or younger. The record was 43 games by Frank Robinson in 1956, while the only other player to do so in the American League had been Mickey Mantle, back in 1952, with 36. He sat out a game after leaving that of September 2nd with a headache - but not before extending his streak with a walk - then made it 34 games with a pair of hits on September 4th. He tied Mantle on September 6th with a 1st-inning triple off Chris Sale of the Red Sox. He collected base hits in his next three at-bats as well to record the first four-hit game of his young career. He passed Mantle the following day thanks to a walk on a hitless day. However, on September 10th, he exited the game with hamstring tightness after extending his streak to 39 games, but was likely to miss an extended period. He did miss some time, but was back two weeks later on September 24th, and immediately extended his streak to 40 games with a walk and a double. It ended on September 30th after 43 games, tying Robinson, when he went 0 for 4 in a 3-2 Rays' loss to the Houston Astros. He had appeared to hit an infield single in the 6th, but the call was reversed after a video review; he also made it to first base twice on a fielder's choice, but these do not count towards such a streak. He finished the season at .288 in 70 games, with 7 homers, 53 runs and 39 RBIs. In the Division Series in which the Rays were upset by the Boston Red Sox, he hit .368 with 2 doubles and 2 homers as one of his team's most dangerous players.

Following his rookie season, Franco finished third in the voting for the 2021 American League Rookie of the Year Award, which was won by his teammate Randy Arozarena, in spite of only playing half the season. On November 23rd, the Rays granted him the largest contract in team history, signing him for 12 years and $185 million, a huge amount but also a potential bargain if he were to develop into a perennial MVP contender as expected by many observers. The hype had not died down when the 2022 season started as many writers pegged him as a dark horse MVP candidate. He started the year on a tear, batting .392 through his first 12 games. On April 22nd, he had the first multi-homer game of his career, connecting twice in a 4-3 loss to the Boston Red Sox. He was leading the American League in hits, doubles and total bases at that early point of the season. However, he slowed down after that hot start and was also hit by injuries, limiting him to 83 games, during which he batted .277 with 6 homers and 33 RBIs. It was still good production, but an OPS+ of 118 was below what had been expected of him. He also was disappointing in the postseason, going just 1 for 9 as Tampa Bay was swept by the Cleveland Guardians in the Wild Card Series.

He started 2023 on a tear as through his first 11 games - all Rays wins - he hit .311 with 4 homers and 10 RBIs. Observers were once again predicting a breakout season from the young infielder and he did not cool down over the next couple of weeks. After 22 games, he was hitting .318 and leading the American League with 11 doubles. On April 24th, he made the highlight reels for his glove, however, as he raced almost 100 feet from his shortstop position to catch a foul pop-up against the Houston Astros with his back to the play - and with his bare hand. He made the All-Star team for the first time that year. On August 11th, he hit the first walk-off home run of his career, after the Rays' bullpen had blown a four-run lead in the 8th and 9th innings against the Cleveland Guardians. He led off the bottom of the inning with a long ball off Nick Sandlin to give the Rays a 9-8 win. Two days later, on August 13th, the Rays announced that Major League Baseball was investigating statements made by Franco on social media, and as a result he was benched for that day's game, allowing Osleivis Basabe to make his big league debut in his place. It was made public the next day that the social media posts hinted at an inappropriate relationship with a minor and that the matter was under investigation by authorities in the Dominican Republic. He was placed on the restricted list at that point and a week later, on August 22nd, he was placed on administrative leave by MLB as the investigation continued.

Notable Achievements[edit]

Further Reading[edit]

  • David Adler: "The skill propelling Wander to stardom", mlb.com, March 20, 2022. [1]
  • Adam Berry: "Wander's vision: Big leagues this year", mlb.com, February 27, 2021. [2]
  • Adam Berry: "No. 1 prospect Wander getting called up", mlb.com, June 20, 2021. [3]
  • Adam Berry: "Wander's here: 'Never seen anything like this'", mlb.com, June 23, 2021. [4]
  • Adam Berry: "Wander keeps streak alive, passes Ott", mlb.com, September 1, 2021. [5]
  • Adam Berry: "'It's going to be special': Wander up for the challenge in '22", mlb.com, March 14, 2022. [6]
  • Adam Berry: "Ozzie's glove + Bonds' bat = Wander? That's the comparison Boston's Bogaerts made after Franco's first multihomer game", mlb.com, April 23, 2022. [7]
  • Adam Berry: "'I'll never forget it': Wander's 1st walk-off turns frustration to elation", mlb.com, August 12, 2023. [8]
  • Ron Blum and Martín Adames (Associated Press): "Dominican authorities investigate Rays' Wander Franco for an alleged relationship with a minor", mlb.com, August 14, 2023. [9]
  • Jim Callis: "Vlad Jr. or Wander Franco? Executives weigh in", mlb.com, April 7, 2020. [10]
  • Scott Chiusano: "Could No. 1 prospect debut in World Series? Wander Franco's Instagram post fuels speculation", mlb.com, October 20, 2020. [11]
  • Thomas Harrigan: "This former No. 1 prospect is proving he's the real deal", mlb.com, April 11, 2023. [12]
  • Mike Petriello: "Wander's breakout is happening in real time: Rookie's 24-game on-base streak is longest active in MLB", mlb.com, August 23, 2021. [13]
  • Liz Roscher: "Report: Rays sign SS Wander Franco to 12-year, $185M extension, largest in team history", Yahoo! Sports, November 23, 2021. [14]
  • Liz Roscher: "MLB places Rays SS Wander Franco on administrative leave amid investigation", Yahoo! Sports, August 22, 2023. [15]

Related Sites[edit]