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Prospect of the Day: Nick Franklin, INF, Seattle Mariners

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Nick Franklin
Nick Franklin
Christian Petersen

The Seattle Mariners sent Dustin Ackley down to the minor leagues yesterday, promoting top infield prospect Nick Franklin in his place. Franklin has been on prospect lists for several years now, ever since he was a first round pick (27th overall) in 2009 out of high school in Altamonte Springs, Florida. Obviously we have to make him Prospect of the Day.

In his first full season, Franklin hit .281/.351/.485 with 23 homers, 25 steals, 50 walks, and 123 strikeouts in 513 at-bats for Low-A Clinton in 2010, leading the Midwest League in home runs and vaulting up prospect charts. 2011 was different: he was waylaid by a variety of physical maladies including a strength-sapping virus, food poisoning, and a concussion. Seldom at 100% physically, he hit .275/.356/.411 in 64 games for High Desert in the California League, but picked things up late in the season with a .325/.371/.482 line in 21 games for Double-A Jackson.

Returning to Jackson to open 2012, he looked like his normal self with a .322/.394/.502 line in 57 games. Promoted to Triple-A Tacoma at mid-season, he struggled a bit against Pacific Coast League pitching with a .243/.310/.416 mark, though scouting reports remained positive. He's been extremely effective so far in 2013 with a .324/.440/.472 line in 177 plate appearances for Tacoma, with 30 walks and just 20 strikeouts. He's also stolen seven bases without being caught.

Franklin is a switch-hitter listed at 6-1, 180 pounds, born March 2, 1991. I've had the opportunity to see Franklin in action for parts of three seasons now. I think the best way to summarize my impressions is with the comment from my book this year.

I'm going to trust my eyes with this one. When I watch Nick Franklin play, I see these strengths: he is an excellent overall athlete with a clean swing from the left side, slightly above average power, slightly above average speed, and good strike zone judgment. He has a strong throwing arm and enough range for shortstop. He plays with energy and assertiveness. Flaws: his approach gets too aggressive at times, although I think he has a natural good eye and this is more a matter of experience than a lack of actual pitch recognition. His swing seems slower and longer from the right side of the plate. His footwork gets tangled up at shortstop on some tough plays. That may also improve with time, but if it doesn't he could be truly excellent at second base. He needs another 60 games to work out the kinks against Triple-A pitching, but I believe in him. Grade B+.

He got 39 games at Tacoma instead of 60, but it looks like the kinks have been worked out. His BB/K/PA ratio is much better this year, which (hopefully) fits into the theory that his previous issue with strikeouts was not a lack of skill or a serious problem with pitch recognition, but was just a need for more experience. Franklin's track record is a bit erratic, but I think he has the aptitude to make the necessary offensive adjustments.

Defense is probably the biggest question here: can he play shortstop? I felt his arm was OK for the position when I've seen him in person; at least, it was stronger than I was led to believe it was. On the other hand, scouts and qualified observers who have seen him more often than I have aren't as sanguine and generally rate his arm as merely average and better-suited for second base. As I wrote in the comment, he's a fine athlete but sometimes has some footwork problems at shortstop. At second base, he's looked more natural.

All told, as a shortstop I would describe him as "adequate, has a chance to improve, workable if he hits enough." On the other hand, I have no doubts at all about his ability to be an above-average, even excellent, gloveman at second base.

At age 22, Franklin is still five or six years away from the classic performance peak. At worst he should be a solid regular, and he's got a chance to be more than that.