ST. PETERSBURG — The All-Star Game is tonight, and in coming years, young Rays Wander Franco, Taylor Walls and Vidal Brujan all could be participating.
For now, the trio of 20-somethings will have to settle for playing key roles on a Rays team competing for a third straight playoff berth.
The switch-hitting infielders began the season at Triple-A Durham, but Rays officials decided there was no sense waiting for a peek at the future. All three were called up in the last two months, making their debuts and good impressions.
“It’s not the future; we’re in the present now with these guys and they’re going to help us,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “All three of them are very talented players. Very versatile, highly athletic and do special things. …
“We’re fortunate to have those guys.”
Shortstop Taylor Walls has slid seamlessly into the Rays lineup since being called up in May. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]
Walls, 25, was the first to get the call in late May when the Rays made the surprising decision to trade shortstop Willy Adames to Milwaukee for two relievers.
Franco — who at 20 is younger than many of the players being drafted this week — was deemed ready in late June and inserted into the lineup, splitting time between shortstop and third base.
Then Brujan, 23, was summoned last week to help replace injured outfielder Manuel Margot, getting time at second base (with Brandon Lowe moving to the outfield) and rightfield, with the chance to stick around.
“It feels good,” Brujan said via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “We’ve been together since the minor leagues. We were all together. So coming up here is very special. It’s a very unique moment, the unity that we have as teammates. …
“It’s great to have (Walls and Franco) here. … We’re all family, and regardless of who’s in there, we’re always supporting each other.”
Walls said that bond makes the experience even better.
“Man, it’s fun,” he said. “A lot of talent. Those guys just love to have fun. They bring energy to the game every day in the dugout. They compete. That’s all you can ask for as a teammate is just to have someone that’s going to go out there and compete the way they do and to have your back the way they do.”
The enthusiasm, energy and talent the three have makes them popular among their teammates.
Vidal Brujan is another young prospect whose dexterity at multiple positions may mean he sticks around on the main roster for a while. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]
Pitcher Shane McClanahan, 24, and other young Rays who played with them coming up through the minors are hardly surprised.
“It’s definitely exciting to see,” said McClanahan, who was the first of this next class of Rays talent to arrive, debuting last postseason, then summoned to join the rotation in late April.
More impressed are the veteran Rays, who read and heard the hype but saw only glimpses of Brujan, Franco and Walls in spring training.
“It’s special — that’s the only way to put it,” said All-Star catcher Mike Zunino, 30. “As highly touted as they were in the minor leagues, in the prospect rankings, just seeing what they’re coming up to this level and doing almost seamlessly, the diversity that they’re showing being able to play multiple positions, handling themselves really well against big-league pitching. …
“They come in, they’re baseball rats. They’re three steps ahead of where I was at that age.”
All-Star infielder Joey Wendle, 31, noted how they’re “fun to watch” and “all bring so much to the table,” learning as they go.
The most veteran Ray, 41-year-old pitcher Rich Hill, pointed to an intangible benefit, how their youthful enthusiasm is a good mental boost during a long season. “Just seeing a guy make a great play and see how he reacts, you say, ‘Okay, it’s still a game that we’re trying to enjoy playing out here and not taken as life or death.’ “
Best of all, pitcher Ryan Yarbrough said, the three are playing key roles.
“Obviously the energy they bring has been really great,” said Yarbrough, 29. “We knew they were going to come up at some point this year, just a matter of when, and they’ve been really exciting to watch. And they’ve obviously been helping us win ballgames. So it’s really all you can ask.”
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