ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Rays have signed international free agent shortstop Wander Samuel Franco to a minor league contract. According to Baseball America and MLB.com, the 16-year-old was the top-rated international prospect eligible to sign this year.
Franco, a switch-hitting shortstop from Bani, Dominican Republic, was scouted and signed by Rays Director of International Scouting Carlos Rodriguez and Dominican Republic Scouting Supervisor Danny Santana.
"We are excited to bring Wander Samuel into the organization. We saw this as an opportunity to add to our system a high-caliber, switch-hitting shortstop with a good blend of tools and skills," Rodriguez said. "He's very young but very mature with great bloodlines. This signing was a great team effort, led by Danny Santana, and with contributions by scouts from the Dominican, Venezuela and the United States. I can't say enough about all of our scouts and the job they did to make this happen."
Franco is the nephew of current major league infielder Erick Aybar and former major league infielder Willy Aybar. Erick Aybar, 33, is currently with the San Diego Padres after spending 10 seasons with the Los Angeles Angels and parts of one season with the Atlanta Braves and Detroit Tigers. With the Angels, he was an American League All-Star in 2014 and won the AL Gold Glove among shortstops in 2011. Willy Aybar, 34, spent five years in the major leagues including three seasons (2008-10) with the Rays. He started at designated hitter in Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS and hit a 7th-inning solo home run, helping the Rays win the AL pennant.
Franco has two older brothers currently playing in the minors: Wander Javier Franco, 22, is a third baseman in the Kansas City Royals organization and Wander Alexander Franco, 20, is a corner infielder in the Houston Astros system.
In the last month, the Rays have added MLB.com's top-rated collegiate player, LHP/1B Brendan McKay, and top-rated international player to the organization. The signing of Franco marks the second time in the last four seasons the Rays have added the top-rated international prospect, as ranked by Baseball America. In 2014, the Rays signed shortstop Adrian Rondon from the Dominican Republic.