TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays reacted to a six-game losing streak by calling up Wander Franco, a 20-year-old shortstop every expert agrees is the best prospect in baseball.
He’ll be in the lineup Tuesday night when the second-place Rays host the first-place Red Sox to start a three-game series.
Franco has only 39 games of minor league experience above Single A ball and will be the youngest player in the major leagues by nearly 15 months once he steps foot on the field.
But the Rays aren’t waiting. They need a spark and believe Franco can provide it.
When will the Red Sox make their move?
The Sox are 43-29, far better than anybody outside of their clubhouse thought they would be when the season started. But they’re 6-6 in their last 12 games and 11-9 in the last 20.
Their offense, pitching, and defense have all fallen back. The Sox lost two of three in Kansas City over the weekend and were dragging Sunday.
The rotation — 1-6 with an 8.03 earned run average in the last 12 games — has been particularly awful. Maybe it’s regression, a tougher schedule, or having to throw out the sticky stuff. Whatever the reason, the Sox need some energy.
The Sox don’t have a Franco in their system. Nobody does. But they do have 24-year-old outfielder Jarren Duran, who has a 1.006 OPS in 30 games for Triple A Worcester along with 12 home runs. The latest was a three-run walk-off blast Sunday.
Duran hasn’t run much — six steals in eight attempts — but has the kind of speed that can change a game. He also needs more work learning to play center field and cutting down his strikeouts.
There’s no indication the Sox will promote Duran. But he represents their best hope to get a jolt from within the organization at a time when it’s needed.
It’s worth a try at this point, especially with a series against the Yankees coming up Friday.
That Duran ably handled the pressure of playing for Team USA in the Olympic qualifying tournament earlier this month suggests he wouldn’t be overmatched by the expectations and atmosphere.
Team USA played what were essentially four must-win games, and Duran was 7 of 19 with three runs scored, three RBIs, and three extra-base hits.
Kiké Hernández has played center field well, but not so well that the Sox would be taking a big risk by playing Duran there. That would allow Hernández to return to the super utility role that fits him best, with a focus on second base.
Franchy Cordero has hit like Ted Williams since being demoted to Triple A. But that has been his history; he mashes in the minors and struggles in the majors.
Bringing Cordero back to play left field and hit eighth wouldn’t change the tone much. Promoting Duran would. He is banging on the door and the Sox have to open it at some point.
There is an alternative. The Sox could wait and hit the division with a double shot of Duran and Chris Sale at some point in late July.
Sale is ramping up his rehabilitation and could pitch his first minor league game before the All-Star Game.
But can the Sox afford to tread water? The Rays lost six straight and returned home only a half-game out of first. The underachieving Yankees have won five of their last six games.
The Blue Jays are muddling along at 35-35 but are about to get George Springer back and play 15 of their next 21 games against teams with losing records. They’re a dangerous team.
Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom has consistently said the Sox can’t overlook the future as they tend to the present.
Agreed. There’s no reason to trade any prospects at this point or deviate from the long-term plan with some rash move.
Promoting Duran serves the present and doesn’t damage the future. He turns 25 in September and it’s starting to feel like they’re wasting his prime in Worcester.
The Rays are pushing their chips in. The Sox should see that bet.