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

Written by 
Published in Breaking News
Tuesday, 22 June 2021 21:47

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.

Franco, who walked in his first major-league plate appearance in the first inning, tied the game at 5-5 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.

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 which saw Tampa Bay lose hold on first place in the American League East. He generated a buzz throughout the ballpark each time he walked up to the plate, and gave all of baseball a snapshot of his overall game. But in the end, the Red Sox spoiled the party.

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 in the fifth. He 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.

"It's still hard to believe," Franco said through an interpreter before the game about his promotion. "I feel ready. I've waited a long time for this moment. I feel really good about it."

Franco hit .315 with seven homers and 35 RBIs in 39 games this season at Triple-A Durham.

"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.

Rays manager Kevin Cash said Franco will also get playing at time at shortstop and second base.

"I think he's kind of shown everybody he's ready," Cash said. "Conquered every level. In fairness, forced our hand."

Red Sox manager Alex Cora compared the anticipation in the baseball world of Franco's debut to that of Toronto 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 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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