Top prospect Wander Franco homers in MLB debut for Rays

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — 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.

RHP Fairbanks, Rays agree to 3-year, $12 million contract

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Reliever Pete Fairbanks and the Tampa Bay Rays avoided arbitration when they agreed Friday to a three-year, $12 million contract that could be worth up to $24.6 million over four seasons.

The deal includes salaries of $3,666,666 this year and $3,666,667 in each of the next two seasons. The Rays have a $7 million option for 2026 with a $1 million buyout.

His 2024 and 2025 salaries could increase by $300,000 each based on games finished in the previous season: $150,000 each for 35 and 40.

Tampa Bay’s option price could increase by up to $6 million, including $4 million for appearances: $1 million each for 60 and 70 in 2025; $500,000 for 125 from 2023-25 and $1 million each for 135, 150 and 165 from 2023-25. The option price could increase by $2 million for games finished in 2025: $500,000 each for 25, 30, 35 and 40.

Fairbanks also has a $500,000 award bonus for winning the Hoffman/Rivera reliever of the year award and $200,000 for finishing second or third.

The 29-year-old right-hander is 11-10 with a 2.98 ERA and 15 saves in 111 appearances, with all but two of the outings coming out of the bullpen since being acquired by the Rays from the Texas Rangers in July 2019.

Fairbanks was 0-0 with a 1.13 ERA in 24 appearances last year after beginning the season on the 60-day injured list with a right lat strain.

Fairbanks made his 2022 debut on July 17 and tied for the team lead with eight saves despite being sidelined more than three months. In addition, he is 0-0 with a 3.60 ERA in 12 career postseason appearances, all with Tampa Bay.

He had asked for a raise from $714,400 to $1.9 million when proposed arbitration salaries were exchanged Jan. 13, and the Rays had offered for $1.5 million.

Fairbanks’ agreement was announced two days after left-hander Jeffrey Springs agreed to a $31 million, four-year contract with Tampa Bay that could be worth $65.75 million over five seasons.

Tampa Bay remains scheduled for hearings with right-handers Jason Adam and Ryan Thompson, left-hander Colin Poche, third baseman Yandy Diaz and outfielder Harold Ramirez.