Wander Franco: Baseball's top prospect to play for D.R. in Olympic qualifying

March 2 (UPI) — Wander Franco — the best prospect in baseball — will play for the Dominican Republic during qualifying later this month for the 2020 Summer Olympics.

Sources told ESPN, MLB.com and the Tampa Bay Times Monday that the Tampa Bay Rays have given permission to the Dominican Republic national team for Franco to play.

The 19-year-old shortstop will team up with former MLB star Jose Bautista to help their native country qualify for the Summer Games at the Americas Qualifying Event from March 22 to 26 in Tempe and Surprise, Ariz.

Two spots remain in the Olympic field. Mexico, Japan, Korea and Israel have clinched the right to play at the Games.

The Dominican Republic, United States, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela, Canada and Colombia still are trying to qualify.

The Olympic baseball competition is from July 29 through Aug. 8 in Tokyo. Games will be played at Yokohama Baseball Stadium in Yokohama, Japan, and at Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium in Fukushima, Japan.

Second place and third place teams from the Americas Qualifying Event will compete at the final qualifying tournament for the last spot in the 10-team Olympic field. The final qualifying tournament was originally scheduled for April 1 to 5 in Taiwan, but has been postponed to June 17 to 21, because of safety concerns related to the the coronavirus.

Geraldo Perdomo, 20, also will play for the Dominican Republic. Perdomo is the No. 82 prospect in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline. MLB’s biggest stars will be in spring training during Olympic qualifying, but will likely be ineligible to participate in the qualifying tournaments and the Summer Games.

Franco is 1 for 5 with a strikeout in two spring training games. He has a .336 batting average, 20 home runs, 110 RBIs and 22 stolen bases in 175 games during his Minor League Baseball career.

The Rays face the Baltimore Orioles at 1:05 p.m. EST Monday at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Fla. They start the regular season with a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at 4:10 p.m. EST March 26 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.

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