Sunday, October 17 2021

It is a long way from top prospect status to the Hall of Fame. Wander Franco, at least, is forcing his way into the same sentence with several Cooperstown honorees.

Just 20 years old, Franco has quietly lived up to the hype that heralded his arrival with the Tampa Bay Rays, and in just more than two months is already making history while holding down shortstop for the American League’s best team.

Franco has reached base in 31 consecutive games, an impressive feat but a particularly eye-opening one when you consider that the only players to reach that level are all Hall of Famers.

Tuesday night, in the second of a key four-game series against the Boston Red Sox, Franco’s two-run single in the third inning gave the Rays the lead for good in an eventual 8-5 victory. And he passed Hall of Famer Mel Ott’s 30-game on-base streak achieved from 1928-1929.

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Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Wander Franco scores a run during the third inning against the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field.Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Wander Franco scores a run during the third inning against the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field.

Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Wander Franco scores a run during the third inning against the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field.

Among his 20-year-old peers, Franco’s next target is once again Ott, who added a 33-game on-base streak later in that ’29 season. After Ott?

Arky Vaughan at 33 games in 1932, Mickey Mantle at 36 games in 1951-52 and the great Frank Robinson at 43 games in 1956.

So it’s been 65 years since a 20-year-old has achieved at this level — and Franco is doing it for a club pulling away from a formidable pack in a pennant race.

The Rays now lead the AL East by eight games over the Yankees and 10 over the Red Sox — and they are more than grateful for his contributions.

“Everything he’s done, we’re just kind of in awe,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said after Tuesday night’s victory. “He plays so hard and he’s getting it done offensively and defensively. As we’ve said from Day 1, he’s a good player, he’s a special player and he’s only going to get better.”

Franco debuted on June 22 — the late start could conceivably save Tampa Bay millions of dollars in salary during his arbitration-eligible years — and may miss out on earning Rookie of the Year honors; teammate Randy Arozarena is among the favorites for that award.

But Franco’s first year will not soon be forgotten. He’s accumulated 2.2 Wins Above Replacement in 54 games — exactly one-third of a season. While his offensive numbers are solid — a .273 average, a .336 OBP, six home runs and an adjusted OPS of 121 — his WAR tally is a greater testament to his all-around play.

Cash noted that in addition to Franco’s key hit, his dirt-ball read of a wild pitch led directly to another run that loomed large after a late Boston comeback. His defense can border on spectacular, and perhaps needs just the passing of time to add necessary polish.

“It’s amazing what he’s doing lately,” says outfielder Kevin Kiermaier. “He already has the makings to being a superstar, but if he can really gear down and become consistent on that side of the ball, it’s scary how good he can be.”

The Rays were already plenty scary as defending pennant winners. Franco’s imminent arrival enabled them to trade incumbent shortstop Willy Adames to Milwaukee, a deal that brought them pitcher Drew Rasmussen, who will figure prominently in their postseason plans as a flexible right-hander they can deploy starting or in relief.

Tampa Bay is accustomed to exceeding expectations. That apparently applies to their most anticipated talent in franchise history.

“I personally didn’t expect him to do all that,” says slugger Yandy Diaz, “but thank God he’s doing it. And hopefully he can continue doing it the rest of the season.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Wander Franco stats: 20-year-old is making history with Rays

Source: Yahoo Sports

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