PORT CHARLOTTE, Florida – The first thing you notice, near Vander Frank, is the Major League Baseball logo tattoo on the left side of his neck. Franco already had it last June 22, when he debuted for the Tampa Bay Rays, as if he had previously been certified for fame. Over the winter he received a date written above the emblem.
Consider it a nice reminder – thousands of times over the next 11 seasons, Rays hopes – of Frank’s confidence and the way he supported him that first night. He fouled the first two pitches he saw, and then withdrew the move. He later drilled a three-run homer and doubled it. He made 10 swings, connected nine times and didn’t knock out.
At a time when many strikers are willing to sacrifice contact for power, Franco, who turned 21 this month, is taking a more logical approach.
“Well, if you want to achieve homer, you have to make contact,” he said, through a Spanish translator, at Rice’s Spring Training Club last week. “So I know in my head that good things will happen if I can make contact.”
The Rays have been counting on many good things for many years. In November, they signed an 11-year contract with Franco for 182 million dollars (with the club option until 2033), the richest contract in the history of the main league for a player with less than a year of service. It was a stunning commitment for a franchise that never had an annual payroll of $ 80 million as it enters its 25th season.
“But he also shows faith in us,” CEO Peter Bendix said. “He shows faith that we will be here to support him, to put him in a position to succeed, to build good teams around him. Both sides have shown faith in each other for a really long time. “
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Franco was 7 years old, at home in the Dominican Republic, when his uncle, Willy Aybar, played for Tampa Bay in the 2008 World Series. Family television lost strength during one of the games, Franco recalled with a laugh, so he couldn’t watch the entire series that Philadelphia won in five games. But he got the idea: The Rays were very good, and they will stay that way.
Starting that 2008 season, the Rays have won more games than the Boston Red Sox and have appeared in more World Series than the Yankees. They signed Franz for $ 3.825 million in 2017, when he was 16, and formed a strong bond as the basis for a long-term contract.
“There is a lot of communication between everyone, the development of players in the lower leagues is amazing and the way they do their job is great,” said Franco. “They always gave me that opportunity and supported me.”
The Rays started following Franc when he was 14 years old. Carlos Rodriguez, vice president of baseball operations who was director of international scouting, was attracted to Frank’s loose, whiplash on both sides of the board. However, when Rodriguez took Frank’s baton, it seemed to the young teenager a heavy, male baton – 33 or 34 ounces, he guessed.
It was a good sign, Rodriguez thought, as was Frank’s pedigree. Frank’s mother, Nancy, has two Premier League brothers: not only Willy Aybar but also Eric, who played 12 seasons in MLB. He gave his sons the name Wander in hopes that one of them would celebrate the name, 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 kid’s talent would actually work against him. Yes, he could have ruined good pitches by fouling them, but he had to learn which pitches to take.
“Because his skills of hitting the ball with a stick were so good, he would sometimes hit the ball far outside the zone or far below that other players would just swing,” Rodriguez said. “So it was kind of detrimental to his average, because those were the cars the pitchers wanted him to make.”
Franco quickly realized this: in 948 appearances in the lower league, he hit .331 and had more extra base hits (95) than strikeouts (75). He distilled his philosophy of hitting in this way: “Really make sure you see the terrain you want to hit, not just swing the balls,” he said. “Look for the terrain you want to hit and reach out to make good contact.”
As a beginner, Franco hit .288 with .347 percent on base and .463 percent weakening, helping the Rays to 100 wins, the most in the American League. He scored just 37 times in 308 games in the regular season, then hit twice and won 7 of 19 in a four-game losing streak from Boston.
According to MLB.com, from the date of Frank’s debut until the end of the regular season, he attacked fast balls less than two thirds of all first league strikers. Against the breaking ball, he broke out less than 95 percent of the attackers, and on off-speed (change and separation) pitches he had the lowest hit rate in major games.
Adapting so imperceptibly to playing in the major leagues – at the age of 20, with only 40 games above Class A – was astonishing.
“Most human beings need exercise packages and you need time to make these adjustments, and that’s what I thought was going to happen,” said Chad Mottola, Rice’s coach. “But he’s the type of guy, if you tell him once, or he sees a certain tone once, he’s like, ‘That won’t beat me anymore.’ All your career, your whole life, you’re like, ‘OK, it’s good to have confidence, but it’s going to take a while.’ While he says ‘OK’ – and it really happens. “
Mottola was once the best potential player, the fifth overall pick in the 1992 draft, one place ahead of Derek Jeter. The coaches insisted on changing the momentum, Mottola said, and he lost his way as a striker. Defeated by the game, he hit a .200 in 125 intermittent sticks.
As a coach, Mottola said, he offers only suggestions, not requests. With a student like Franco, however, there is not much to say. Perhaps, he said, the lesson is that a simple approach is the best. Or maybe Frank is meant for more enjoyment than study, the kind of person who puts his destination on his skin, marks the moment he gets there and looks like he may never leave.
“His mentality as a person makes it all come together,” Mottola said. “He is really having fun. The innocence he brings, which we all had before this game destroyed her, kept her. He signed this big contract and kept everything. It’s a fun part for all of us: watching a child play a game and the rest of us trying to survive this mess. ”