ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Wander Franco, a 20-year-old infielder considered the best prospect in the minor leagues, homered for the Tampa Bay Rays in his major league debut, connecting for a three-run drive against Boston on Tuesday night.
Called up from Triple-A earlier in the day, Franco’s first big league hit was a home run to left field against Eduardo Rodriguez in the fifth inning that tied the game at 5.
The rookie raised his right arm as he neared the plate and lifted both arms while crossing the plate to a roaring crowd at Tropicana Field.
Franco 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.
Franco batted second and played third base. The salute grew to full standing ovation with fans in the left-field stands chanting “Wander Franco” as he walked to the plate to bat in the first.
After Franco walked on a 3-2 pitch the first time up, he hit a long fly to center in the third.
“It’s still hard to believe,” Franco said through an interpreter before the game. “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.
Tampa Bay had lost six straight entering Tuesday, dropping a half-game back of the first-place Red Sox in the AL East.
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