Wander Franco is hoping to hit the field at the 2020 Tokyo Games.
The 19-year-old Dominican professional baseball shortstop in the Tampa Bay Raysorganization, the top prospect in Major League Baseball, and longtime star Jose Bautista plan to play for the Dominican Republic as the country tries to qualify for the Olympics later this month, according to ESPN.
Franco, who turned 19 on Sunday, would strengthen a Dominican team jockeying for one of the remaining two qualifying spots in baseball’s return to the Olympics after a 12-year hiatus. He and Bautista, 39, would round out a roster that faces strong competition at the Americas Qualifying Eventon March 22-26 in Tempe and Surprise, Arizona.
Among the teams vying to win the tournament and its single qualifying spot: The Dominican Republic, the United States, Canada, Colombia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.
The winner will join host nation Japan, Israel, Mexico and South Korea, who already have qualified, while the second- and third-place teams at the event will have an opportunity to lock up the sixth spot at the final qualifying tournament.
Originally scheduled to be held in Taiwan from April 1-5, the tournament was postponed Sunday because of coronavirus fears until June 17-21 — barely a month before the Tokyo Games’ opening ceremony.
The additions of Franco and Arizona Diamondbacksinfielder Geraldo Perdomo, 20, to the Dominican roster will give the team perhaps the most dynamic middle infield in the tournament. Franco is a transcendent talent who evaluators believe could play in the major leagues today — a powerful, speedy, contact-oriented switch hitter whose slick glove and strong arm allow him to patrol shortstop with aplomb.
While not as highly touted, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Perdomo is an elite athlete whose eye and bat-to-ball talents were rare for someone who played all of last season at 19. A natural shortstop, he played about half his games during the Arizona Fall League at second base and will return there for the Dominican team.
Bautista is expected to play first base, a position he manned 30 times in more than 1,650 major league games during which he hit 344 home runs and drove in nearly 1,000 runs. He last played in the major leagues in 2018, though he spent this winter working out as a pitcher in hopes of returning as a two-way player, sources said. Bautista, who represented the D.R. in the 2009 and 2017 World Baseball Classic, may not pitch in the qualifier but is expected to play a significant role as the D.R. faces Puerto Rico, the United States and Nicaragua during the tournament’s round-robin first round. The two best teams from each four-team pool will face off in a final round that awards the winner and keeps the second- and third-place teams alive.
Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association agreed last week to allow players who are on teams’ 40-man rosters but not active in the major leagues to join their countries’ qualifying-event teams. The potential infusion of talent could theoretically help a team like the United States, which suffered an embarrassing loss to Mexico at the Premier12tournament in November that prevented Team USAfrom qualifying.