Nick Franklin was scheduled to assume the shortstop position for the Mariners in 2012. Indeed, he still may.
At the end of June, playing for Double-A Jackson, Franklin was struck in the jaw by the backswing of another hitter. Franklin was in the batting cage prior to the game when he was smacked in the face with the bat. In addition to the ramifications from the concussion he suffered, Franklin had a serious bout of food borne illness. He was out of the Generals' lineup until August 19. The net result has been a lack of at-bats this season for Franklin. I would guess he could be assigned to the Mariners' Arizona Fall League team to make up for the time missed at the plate. We should learn that by the end of the month.
Franklin graduated in 2009 from Lake Brantley High School in Altamonte Springs, Florida. That school has produced a number of professional baseball players including Rickie and Jemile Weeks, Felipe Lopez, and Jason Varitek. Baseball coach Mike Smith has indicated publicly that Franklin's work ethic and his leadership were outstanding characteristics of Franklin's high school career.
At Lake Brantley, Franklin led the team to a state of Florida High School title in his junior year. He hit over .400 in both his junior and senior years. At one point in high school, pitchers tried to avoid Franklin's bat by walking him. Coach Smith countered that strategy by slotting Franklin in the leadoff position, and it worked. Following his senior year, Franklin was named the Orlando Sentinel Baseball Player Of The Year.
I contacted Coach Smith about Nick. This is what he wrote about Franklin:
"Nick is from a baseball family. They all worked with him on his baseball skills all the time. His parents would work with him off of the tees. His dad would throw to Nick every day. I once saw his mom soft tossing to him. His brother Clint would be home and come down and throw b.p. to Nick on the field after every one else had gone home. Clint was a pitcher for the University of Florida.
Nick was a tireless worker always trying to get better. Having Nick around was like having an extra Coach. He would work with other players hours on hours trying to help them get better. I had to end up giving Nick a key to the field he was here as much as I was. Nick would go home do his homework, eat dinner and them come back down. And would stay until 10 or 11 o'clock on most nights. He was an excellent student as well as a person."
And here is a memory from Nick's Athletic Director, Jerri Kelly:
“My favorite memory of Nick was a game his junior year vs. Ben White HS in Jacksonville. Nick hit 3 home runs, one to left, center and right field. Finally they stopped pitching to him and would put him on."
Franklin originally had his sights set on attending Auburn University, where he committed to play baseball. Had he attended Auburn, he would have faced his older brother Clint who was a relief pitcher for the University of Florida, as Coach Smith indicated.
In 2009, The Mariners drafted Franklin with the 27th overall pick in the first round, causing him to make a difficult decision. He decided to accept their contract offer and he signed with the Mariners for $1.28 million. Franklin was the second player that year drafted in the first round by Seattle. They chose Dustin Ackley with the first overall selection. In essence, after converting Ackley to second base, the Mariners solidified their middle infield for years to come with their two first-round selections in the 2009 draft. Of course, Ackley is already on the big league club.
Prior to his food poisoning incident, Franklin was a 6-foot-1, 170-pound lanky, lean, and rangy type athlete. After the food poisoning incident, Franklin had to work hard to regain his strength and his weight. He has always wanted to be the best athlete possible. Following his junior year in high school, he dedicated himself to a regimen of strict weight training.
In many ways, Franklin reminds me of a young J.J. Hardy. Hardy is just a bit bigger and heavier, but the ability to hit for power and the ability to run and steal bases is central to both their games. Both usually hit for a respectable batting average and both know how to play the game with intensity and drive. In 2010, Franklin had a 20/20 homer and stolen base season in the minor leagues. There are some who feel Franklin compares to Michael Young. I'm not as sure about that but I can see why people say it. If it turns out that way, Franklin will have a great career. Neither Hardy, nor Franklin will win a Gold Glove at shortstop, but both are certainly beyond adequate. More about Franklin's defense a bit later.
Franklin has the short, compact type swing that leads to other good overall hitting mechanics and habits. For example, he generally puts the bat on the ball. By making solid contact he has a chance for something good to happen every at-bat. He uses the barrel of the bat to its fullest, and his power comes from a proper weight shift, and clearing his lower body and his hands properly. Franklin has good plate discipline with a solid knowledge of the strike zone. He has very quick hands and he generates quick bat speed, a must for a good hitter. He can take pitches to all parts of the field. Those are all very favorable qualities, especially at a position like shorstop. And especially for a 20 year- old player.
Here are Franklin's composite minor league numbers including all classifications since he became a professional:
Three seasons from ages 18-20, 880 at-bats, .289/30/94 with 42 stolen bases
There has been some controversy about Franklin continuing as a switch-hitter. I'm not sure there is enough data on Franklin as a professional player to know if he can or can't hit from both sides of the plate. I also think if he feels comfortable hitting from both sides it will be an advantage for Franklin in his career. The Mariners' coaching staff and Franklin will have to determine the answer to that question. One thing is certain however. Safeco Field, where he will play half his games is friendlier to left-handed hitters. For whatever that's worth.
This season, the Mariners have played Brendan Ryan at shortstop. He's a world- class fielder and some say his bat is good enough for him to stick at the position. He's a streaky hitter, to be sure. Franklin's future, as well as that of Ryan will depend upon the organization's evaluation of both players as the new season unfolds. From what I have seen, Ryan is a much better defender than Franklin. Franklin is average, at best. His footwork is acceptable, his arm average, but he doesn't seem to have the natural ability and instincts to play smoothly and without “over thinking” at short. Ryan is just the opposite. He does everything so smoothly and naturally that in many people's view, he has propelled himself to the top of the defensive list of American League shortstops.
Franklin seems to have more power than Ryan. Again, the park factor could negate the home runs, but the gap doubles and triples could be an advantage for Franklin. And again, Franklin can run.
In his brief time back since injury/illness Franklin has hit extremely well. Keep in mind he has only had 75 at-bats this entire season including time at lower classifications. Here is his line at Double-A this season through this writing:
8 games 32 at-bats, .500/1/3 with three steals
The Mariners are totally reinventing themselves and introducing some high ceiling prospects to the organization. Players like Justin Smoak, Mike Carp, Casper Wells, Michael Pineda, Blake Beavan, Charlie Furbush, Dan Cortes, Kyle Seager, Trayvon Robinson and Chance Ruffin are now all on board at the major league level to supplement the value of Brendan Ryan, Felix Hernandez and others. Franklin is waiting in the wings. He should add additional quality to an improving franchise. He just needs a little more time to catch up from some very important missed at-bats.
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