Wander Franco, Major League Baseball's No. 1 prospect, is making his anticipated big-league debut for the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night as they face off against the Boston Red Sox in the first game of a pivotal three-game set. The Rays, losers of six consecutive games, entered Tuesday a half-game behind the Red Sox in the American League East race.
Franco, for his part, will be asked to carry a heavy load out of the gate. He's playing third base and batting second in Tampa Bay's order. That may seem like a lofty assignment for a debuting 20-year-old, but Rays manager Kevin Cash offered the following explanation prior to the game. "We're all about keeping guys comfortable," he told reporters, including Neil Solondz, "and he's never hit past third as far as I know so we're going to keep him up there."
Franco, a switch-hitter, batted .315/.367/.586 with seven home runs, six triples, and five stolen bases (albeit on nine tries) over 39 games in Triple-A. Notably, his strikeout percentage was just 11.8 percent -- that despite being nearly seven years younger than his average competition. Franco is used to performing well against older players, though, as evidenced by his career slash line of .332/.398/.536.
For those curious about Franco's jersey number, he's sticking with the No. 5. Why? To honor his fellow Dominican Republic countryman Albert Pujols. Here's what Franco told MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez about the tribute:
"I wear No. 5. The only Dominican player that's really had a lot of success wearing that number is Albert Pujols. That's why I wear it. It's out of respect and tribute to Albert Pujols. He's put up so many numbers, and he's just a legend in the Dominican Republic."
We have more on what to expect from Franco here.