Magic Wander: Rays' Franco, 20, dazzles in debut

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — It didn’t take long for Wander Franco to display the many skills that scouts have been raving about. The kind of skills that made him the No. 1 overall prospect in Major League Baseball. The kind of skills that the Tampa Bay Rays hope to see a lot more of.

It’s only one game, of course, but it sure seems like the sky is the limit.

In his major league debut, Franco, 20, started at third base, doubled, homered, drove in three runs and showed a flair for the dramatic with a curtain call in Tampa Bay’s 9-5, 11-inning loss to the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday.

Franco, who walked in his first major-league plate appearance in the first inning, tied the game at 5 in the fifth with a 362-foot homer that drove in Kevin Kiermaier and Yandy Diaz. He showed confidence — and some swagger — on the base paths and electrified the crowd at Tropicana Field.

Called up from Triple-A earlier in the day, Franco raised his right arm as he neared the plate and lifted both arms while crossing the plate to a roaring crowd when he connected in the fifth off Eduardo Rodriguez and drew his first curtain call in the majors.

“In that at-bat I actually knew I was going to hit a home run because that was the pitch I was looking for,” Franco said through an interpreter. “I ended up getting the pitch that I was looking for and I was able to help the team out.”

Franco pointed toward his father, who was at the game, while crossing the plate. His father, meanwhile, reacted with pure joy when the home run was hit.

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Wander Franco’s father can’t contain his excitement while watching his son homer in his MLB debut.

Franco got the ball back and plans to display it at his home in the Dominican Republic.

“I felt super good,” he said through an interpreter. ”God sent me a surprise with all this.”

Franco even drew a nice ovation when he went on the field to run pregame, and got a partial standing ovation when the Rays’ lineup was announced over the public-address system.

His debut, however, wasn’t enough to provide the right elixir for a struggling Rays team that has now lost seven in a row, a streak that saw Tampa Bay lose hold on first place in the American League East.

“Pretty electric player,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Win or loss, we’re trying to win them all obviously, but it had to be a great day for Wander and his family. A talented player that’s going to be fun to watch in the coming months.”

Red Sox manager Alex Cora agreed.

“What a good player he is,” he said. “The way he controls the at-bat for how young he is. They have a special one.”

Franco hit .315 with seven homers and 35 RBIs in 39 games this season at Triple-A Durham. Speaking before the game, Cash said Franco will also get playing at time at shortstop and second base.

“I want to give 100 percent of what I’ve got and just continue with the work I’ve been doing in hopes that it turns me into a superstar,” Franco said pregame.

Cora compared the anticipation in the baseball world of Franco’s debut to that of Toronto Blue Jays star Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

“He can do a lot of stuff in the field,” said Cora, who saw Franco play during spring training. “Very physical for his age. He’s very strong. The future is bright for this kid.”

Franco is wearing No. 5 out of respect for longtime star Albert Pujols, a fellow countryman from the Dominican Republic.

Pujols, now slugging for the Los Angeles Dodgers, made his major league debut one month and one day after Franco’s birth. Franco is the first major leaguer born in 2001.

Franco was 5-for-17 with a long home run in seven spring training games for Tampa Bay this year.

To make room on the active roster, right-hander Drew Rasmussen was optioned to Durham on Monday. A spot on the 40-man was cleared with infielder-outfielder Wyatt Mathisen being designated for assignment Tuesday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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