Wander Franco and Tampa Bay Rays are ready to repeat

PORT CHARLET, FL – The first thing you notice near Wonder Franco is a tattoo of the Major League Baseball logo on the left side of his neck. Franco already had it last June 22, when he made his debut for the Tampa Bay Race, as if he had been pre-certified as a star. In the winter he received the date written above the emblem.

Consider it a convenient reminder – thousands of times over the next 11 seasons, the Rays hope – of Franco’s self-confidence and the way he supported him on the first night. He fouled the first two pitches he saw, then took a step. He later made a homer with three runs and doubled it. He made 10 swings, connected nine times and did not cross out.

At a time when many attackers are willing to sacrifice contact for power, Franco, who turns 21 this month, is taking a more logical approach.

“Well, if you want to do a home run, you have to make contact,” he said through a Spanish translator at the Rays Spring Training Club last week. “So I know in my head that if I can connect, good things will happen.

The rays have relied on many good things for many years. In November, they signed with Franco an 11-year contract worth $ 182 million (with a club option for 2033), the richest deal in the history of the major leagues for less than a year. It was a stunning commitment to a franchise that never had an annual salary of $ 80 million when it entered its 25th season.

“But he also shows faith in us,” said general manager Peter Bendix. “He shows faith that we will be here to support him, that we put him in a position to succeed, that we will build good teams around him. Both sides have shown faith in each other for a really long time. “

Franco was 7 years old at home in the Dominican Republic when his uncle Willie Aibar played for Tampa Bay in the 2008 World Series. Family TV lost power during one of the matches, Franco recalled with a laugh, so he couldn’t watches the entire series, which Philadelphia won in five games. But he understood the idea: The rays were very good and will always be so.

Starting with this 2008 season, Reiss won more games than the Boston Red Sox and appeared in more world series than the Yankees. They signed Franco for $ 3.825 million in 2017, when he was 16, and formed a strong bond as the basis for a long-term deal.

“There is a lot of communication between everyone, the development of the players in the minor leagues is amazing and the way they run their business is great,” said Franco. “They have always given me this opportunity and supported me.”

The rays began to follow Franco when he was 14. Carlos Rodriguez, vice president of baseball operations and director of international scouting, was drawn to Franco’s loose, whip-like swing on both sides of the plate. Still, when Rodriguez picked up Franco’s bat, it felt heavy for a young teenager, a 33-ounce or 34-ounce bat, he guessed.

It was a good sign, Rodriguez thought, and so was Franco’s lineage. Franco’s mother, Nancy, has two brothers in the big league: not only Willie Aibar, but also Eric, who played 12 seasons in the MLB. Franco’s father, also named Wonder, plays professionally, but does not qualify for the big ones. He named his sons Wander in the hope that one would make the name known, and while two older boys – Wander Alexander and Wander Javier – played in the minors, the youngest, Wander Samuel, was destined to break through.

Sometimes, Rodriguez said, the child’s talent would actually work against him. Yes, he could ruin good pitches by bankrupting them, but he had to learn which fields to take.

“Because his batting skills were so good, he sometimes hit the ball out of bounds or far down that the other players would just go through it,” Rodriguez said. “So it did some damage to his mid-level, because those were the outs the pitchers wanted to make.”

Franco figured it out quickly: In 948 appearances in the junior championship, he hit 0.331 and had more hits from extra base (95) than outsiders (75). He distilled his philosophy of hitting as follows: “Really make sure you see the pitch you want to hit, not just swing balls,” he said. “Look for the terrain you want to hit and run your hands to make good contact.”

As a rookie, Franco scored 0.288 with 0.347 percent on base and 0.463 percent delay, helping the Rays achieve 100 wins, the most in the American League. He hit just 37 times in 308 games in the regular season, then roamed twice and won 7 against 19 in a loss to Boston in a four-game streak.

According to MLB.com, from the date of Franco’s debut until the end of the regular season, he hits against fast balls less than two thirds of all strikers in the major leagues. Against crashing balls he hit less than 95 percent of the attackers, and against off-speed pitches (shifts and splits) he had the lowest strike rate in the main rankings.

It was amazing to adapt so easily to being in the big leagues – at the age of 20, with only 40 games above Class A.

“Most people need training packages and you need time to make those adjustments, and that’s what I thought was going to happen,” said Chad Motola, Reyes’ strike coach. “But he’s the type of person, if you tell him once or he sees a certain height once, he says to himself, ‘This isn’t going to beat me again.’ but it will take some time. ” As long as he says “OK” – and it really happens. “

Motola was one of the best prospects once, the fifth overall pick in the 1992 draft, one place ahead of Derek Jeter. The coaches insisted on changing his swing, Motola said, and he lost his way as a striker. Defeated by the game, he hit 0.200 in 125 with breaks in batting.

As a coach, Motola said, he only offers suggestions, not requests. However, there is nothing to be said about a student like Franco. Perhaps, he said, the lesson is that a simple approach is best. Or maybe Franco is destined to enjoy more than to study, the man who paints his destination on his skin marks the moment he arrives there and seems like he may never leave.

“His mentality as a person is doing all this to unite,” Motola said. “He’s really having fun. The innocence he carries, which we all had before this game ruined it, he kept it. He signed this great treaty and kept it. This is the fun part for all of us: watching a child play a game where the rest of us are trying to survive this mess. ”

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