As you well know by now, Nick Franklin was summoned from Tacoma to replace the struggling Dustin Ackley on the Mariners roster on Monday. Franklin walked in his first big league plate appearance and figures to start against San Diego Padres right-hander Edinson Volquez on Tuesday from his dominant left-handed side, likely taking Ackley's spot as the club's regular second baseman for the next several weeks at least.
Franklin -- 22-years-old and with nearly 400 games of minor league action under his belt -- is a switch-hitter and he figures to see at least a little bit of playing time at shortstop, which was his natural position, as a big leaguer. He was Seattle's 1st round selection in the draft back in 2009 and moved pretty quickly through the system to get to this point, considering his age and injury history. After struggling in his initial exposure to Triple-A in the 2012 second half, Franklin showed promising progress in his plate discpline and power as last year went on and his hot start to the 2013 year in Tacoma were even more encouraging on those fronts. Franklin's career minor league slash is a very solid .287/.360/.459 with a 9.6% BB rate, 19.2% K rate and 8.5% XBH rate. Nick Franklin earned this promotion and, to me at least, this move was at least as much about Franklin and the Mariners wanting to see what the kid could do at this level as it was about Ackley and getting him right.
But back in 2011, Ackley -- 23-years-old and with exactly 200 games of minor league action on his record -- seemed like a can't miss hitting prospect in his own right. The former No. 2 overall pick in the 2009 draft owned a career minor league slash of .280/.387/.435 with a 14.2% BB rate, 12.7% K rate and 8.4% XBH rate. And when he was recalled by Seattle, he had earned that promotion. Ackley had started slowly in Double-A and upon his initial promotion to Triple-A in 2010, showing more patience and power in 2011 before he was added to the 25-man roster. It was a little bit easier of a move as there was no one of consequence holding a precious spot on the roster, but the general premise remains. Ackley was ready then. Franklin is ready now.
Ackley hit the big leagues and immediately took off, getting a single up the middle in his first game and hitting a home run in his second. After 20 games in the majors he had a .900 OPS. After 40 games he had a .925 OPS. Dustin Ackley was proving what everyone had said about him back in his days at North Carolina; he was just a very good, polished hitter.
But in the big leagues there is a constant battle by every hitter -- even accomplished veterans with a long history of success -- to respond to the adjustments that pitchers make against you. And over the remaining 50 games of his rookie season Ackley's OPS would drop more than 150 points, his strikeout rate rose and his walk rate fell. He wasn't driving the ball as frequently and he was getting beat by fastballs up, in and away. Pitchers had adjusted, Dustin hadn't. The same struggles continued into 2012 and remains today, and the problem of Dustin opening up with his front side became more and more apparent. And now over his last 248 games and 1,052 plate appearances with the Mariners, Ackley is hitting .226/.296/.312 with a 20.2% K rate. Is it a result of him trying to get out in front of the fastball? Trying to cheat for more power? Whatever it is, it has unquestionably limited the damage he is able to do and changed the type of hitter that Dustin Ackley currently is.
Ackley '11 HR and '13 2B show the difference in his front side. MLB.com
And now that Ackley is down in Tacoma and Franklin is up with Seattle, the problem compounds for Dustin. Not only does he have to get himself right and get back to being on plane, on time, with his lower half working with his hands to be able to barrel up and drive the ball, but now he needs to do so regularly enough that the Mariners either feel they have to move Franklin out of Ackley's way or find another spot for Dustin to play. Of course Franklin could fail. In fact, I would surmise that most Mariners fans are even expecting Franklin to fail. Should that be the case and Ackley figures himself out then the change to get him back in the lineup is an easy one. But if Franklin plays well and avoids the extended struggles that Ackley went through then what with Ackley?
The 25-year-old version of Dustin Ackley isn't likely to be a candidate for left field. Much more pressure on the bat with that move, not to mention yet another position change, even if it is back to a position -- outfield -- where he has extensive experience. And he has actually acclimated himself quite well to the keystone defensively. There are a number of scenarios that we could think up in regards to Ackley coming back up, but the fact of the matter is that this second time isn't likely to be as easy for him to crack the lineup as it was the first time. The Mariners are invested in another player at the position at the big league level now.
And so Ackley faces a tough road ahead. But we shouldn't forget that he was the consensus best hitter in the draft just a few short seasons ago. And that he broke into the major leagues hitting from day one. If he can find a way to get those adjustments that he needs and can regain that stroke then a return is not out of the question. But it is going to take a lot of work.
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