Prospect Evolution: Nick Franklin

SeattleClubhouse takes an in-depth look at the changing profile of top prospect Nick Franklin of the Tacoma Rainiers. The switch-hitter burst onto the prospect scene with surprising home run power in his first full pro season, but his game isn't all about home runs at this point. In fact, he's better than that.

I am a lot like any baseball fanatic on Draft Day. I get situated before the coverage starts, make sure the appropriate snacks are available, and I shake my head in partial wonder every time my team drafts a high school middle infielder towards the beginning of the first day. 2012 marks the fourth year in succession that the Seattle Mariners have drafted a middle infielder in the first or second round (three high school selections). The lone college draftee in this group is Brad Miller while the high school draftees read as Joe DeCarlo , Marcus Littlewood , and Nick Franklin . Although Littlewood and Franklin are separated by just a single season apart in the Mariners organization; their stories are very different. Littlewood continues to find his stroke with Everett, Mariners short season affiliate, while Franklin appeared to be knocking on the Mariners Front Office door shouting, "Call me up!" after his torrid 2012 start.

Nick Franklin was the Mariners first-round selection in the 2009 MLB First-Year Player Draft at number 27 overall, and was the fourth infielder selected. Franklin signed quickly with Seattle and was able to play in 16 games that season, finishing his inaugural season at Everett batting .400/.429/.600 in 6 games played. It was no surprise to see Baseball America rank Franklin as the Mariners ninth overall prospect going into 2010. You might think Franklin was listed the Mariners first overall prospect the way he hit the ball in 2010 leading the Midwest League (MWL) with 23 home runs and qualifying as the only teenager in the MWL Top-10 for Hits (144) and Runs (89). His 23 home runs broke Dick Kenworthy's 49-year-old record for most HRs in Clinton team history. By adding 25 stolen bases, Franklin was one of just three players in all of minor league baseball to join the 20/20 club; the other two players were Danny Espinosa and Brandon Belt, both MLB starters in 2012.

Franklin began his 2011 campaign with High Desert in the California League ranked as the 53rd overall prospect by Baseball America. He was set to appear in his fifth game with the Jackson Generals, following a promotion to Double-A, when he was hit in the jaw by the backswing of another player. Franklin would suffer a concussion, miss the entire month of July and into August, and spend a short three game assignment in the Rookie League before re-joining Jackson. Franklin would finish with 21 Double-A games played for 2011 batting .325/.371/.482. With his 64 games for High Desert and 3 rehab games Franklin would finish with a line of .281/.352/.418 hitting 7 home runs -- 16 short of his former season. Nick ended 2011 with the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League where he batted .258 with 23 hits in 24 games played. Pedro Grifol, the current High Desert Mavericks Manager, said this to the Tacoma News Tribune of Franklin's skill-set during the 2011 season:

"He's elevated his game, like good talents always do. You challenge them, and they elevate their game. The reports we've gotten from Double-A have been unbelievable. He's hitting, hitting with power, playing great defense, and he's brought energy to the club. He's a leader. Everything we anticipated, it's happened."

Baseball America took higher notice of Franklin's batting line in 2011 than the words of those within the Mariners organization as Franklin dropped to the 77th overall prospect in baseball prior to the 2012 season. He would begin the season in Jackson where he had so much success to end his previous season. He spent 57 games with the Generals, hitting .322/.394/.502 in that time with Jackson, before being promoted to Tacoma. His .502 slugging percentage for Jackson registered .016 points higher than the numbers Franklin put up during his 23 home run season. Franklin joined the Tacoma Rainiers for 64 games to finish out the 2012 season putting up a .243/.310/.416 line. His final 2012 line of .278/.347/.453 netted Franklin 131 hits in 121 games played. I am not going to argue that Franklin is not ready to, "taste the majors right now", as Geoff Baker with The Seattle Times writes.

The amount of position players in the Major Leagues that eventually have a minor league season, albeit early or late in their development, where they develop into a Major League hitter rather than a Baseball America prospect exceeds those that do not. This development appears in many shapes and forms, from on-base percentage, to platoon splits, batting average on balls in play or even physical traits, such as swing length, angles, and speed.

Carlos Santana -- the Cleveland Indians backstop -- spent parts of 2006 through 2008 in High-A ball raising his BB% from 10.3% to 15.9% and lowering his K% from 19.3% to 13.6%. The next season Santana made his first appearance on Baseball America's prospect list at No. 26. Nick Franklin used 2012 in splitting time between Jackson and Tacoma to become a better Major League hitter; a hitter that can be successful at Safeco Field.

Most scouting departments have to be aware of the propensity of their Major League stadium to allow a number of things, called Park Factors. Safeco Field is among the top pitchers park in baseball, falling into the bottom three in the league offensively in the park factors behind home runs, hits, runs, doubles, and triples in 2012; doubles at a Park Factor of .676 crush home runs (.542) and triples (.451) in probability. Because of Safeco's low probability in allowing hits, it becomes a team importance to reach base and advance on the base paths using a skill-set focused on patience and speed. Raising the pitch count, drawing walks, stealing bases, and not committing base running miscues becomes as important as hitting a lead-off double in a park like Fenway (1.491 2B Park Factor).

Franklin tallied 52 extra base hits in his 2010 break-out season with Clinton; as I've stated, 23 of these hits were home runs, seven were triples, and 22 were doubles. That is a Baseball America season. In 2012 Franklin hit only 11 home runs but managed to reach 52 XBHs for the second time with a total of 32 doubles, and nine triples. That is a Safeco Field season. His 32 doubles on the season place him tied for fifth in the organization behind leader Brad Miller's 40. Franklin recorded a career high line drive rate of 17.8%, up from 16.7 in 2011 and more notably 13.5% in his time with High Desert at the beginning of that 2011 season. Franklin's strikeout percentage climbed and his walk percentage fell with Tacoma, as you would expect them both to do as a player makes that leap to the next level of competition. His BB% fell from 10.2% to 8.3% while his K% rose from 15.7% to 23.1%. Signs of positive progress are scattered throughout these numbers as Franklin continued to improve the patience that Grifol spoke about.

Franklin spent his final nine games of June with Tacoma following his promotion; a period where he would walk only twice and strikeout 14 times (7.00 K/BB ratio). In July he would draw 12 walks and strikeout 33 times (2.75 K/BB ratio) in 25 games played. In August Franklin posted his strongest month from the plate with eight walks and 19 strikeouts (2.38 K/BB ratio). If you are a production supporter above all else I do have positive news that you can take away from this article. In 103 at-bats in July Franklin hit 2 home runs amid 9 XBHs for a .408 slugging percentage. In 113 at-bats in August Franklin hit 4 home runs amid 13 XBHs for a .451 slugging percentage. That .451 slugging percentage is only .031 points lower than his 23 home run campaign in 2010. The most at-bats Franklin has taken in a single season is 516 (approximately 103 per month). If you take Franklin's numbers from August 2012 and spread his home runs and XBHs over a season averaging 103 at-bats per month you come up with 18 home runs and 58.5 XBHs.

These numbers show that by raising his line drive rate -- even while adjusting to Triple-A pitching -- Franklin can produce at the same level he did in 2010 when hitting less home runs due to using the whole field to his advantage rather than trying to hit the ball over the fence. Still have doubts about what this kid can do? Franklin is listed as logging 81 at bats with Tacoma in 2012 while he was ahead in the count. In these at bats he hit .346/.495/.506 with a 1.001 OPS walking 24 times while striking out 10 times (2.4 BB/K ratio). More impressive are that in those 81 at bats Franklin has no home runs; meaning his confidence in scenarios that favor the batter leads to a 1.000+ OPS just by swinging the bat. Franklin will find himself ahead in a higher number of counts as he adjusts to Triple-A pitching and Seattle should see him in Safeco Field before the end of 2013; all the while being labeled a former Top 100 Baseball America prospect.

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