On the surface, the question of whether or not Mariners prospect Nick Franklin fits in Seattle’s future given the .555 OPS of incumbent shortstop Brendan Ryan seems a bit silly. Yes, Ryan is one of the best defensive shortstops in the game, but the Mariners and their team 87 wRC+ are in desperate need of offensive help all over the diamond. Cue Nick Franklin and his .278/.347/.453 triple slash line as a 21-year old in double and Triple-A. On paper, this presents as a perfect opportunity for the Mariners organization to upgrade internally to a young, cost-controlled shortstop with pop.
However, the storybook ending is far from guaranteed given Franklin’s perceived defensive limitations. Having recently ranked the current shortstop as the best second base prospect scouted in person during the 2012 season, include me on the list of prospect writers who openly question his ability to stick. Add to this my really being impressed with Double-A shortstop Brad Miller and Franklin may find himself battling Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager for playing time at second or third base.
Video after the jump
Franklin began the weekend festivities as badly as one could. His first two plate appearances against former first round pick Aaron Miller (Dodgers) resulted in strikeouts in which Franklin repeatedly flailed wildly from the right side missing breaking pitches by a foot or more. So horrific were Franklin’s first two at bats, the switch hitter opted for a lefty-lefty duel which ended in yet another strikeout in which he appeared overmatched.
In fairness to Franklin, a long night of travel to Chattanooga after a double-header the day before would throw any player off. However, the narrative of Franklin being the best hitting prospect in an organization with serious offensive woes was writing itself before my eyes. Like a bad car accident, I could not look away. My piece on Franklin was going deflate Mariners fans waiting for the former first round pick to displace Brendan Ryan. I could already envision Dave Cameron, fists clenched, screaming “WHYYYYYYY!” from his roof in Winston-Salem. Jeff Sullivan wasn’t even writing for FanGraphs yet, but he’d be drowning in sorrow as well.
Then, Nick Franklin turned the page. With a single swing of the bat, his towering home run to right field off of a letter high fastball provided a glimpse as to what Franklin was capable of. Little did I know it was the start of what would turn out to be the most impressive string of plate appearances I’ve seen in person. Instead of writing about them, let’s just post the results.
Single to LF
Home Run to RF
Single to RF
Single to CF
Single to RF
Including the home run to start the streak, Franklin’s run of seven consecutive at bats reaching base was nothing short of spectacular. Not only were the results remarkable, but Franklin showed the ability to work deep counts, fight off tough pitches and take advantage of mistakes. He’s not as good, or bad offensively as the peaks and valleys of my two game look, but I came away impressed by his performance.
Defensively, Franklin wasn’t tested as he tallied only one assist at second base across 18 innings. However, I did watch quite a bit of him between innings and perceived him as an average athlete with limited arm strength. I ran these initial opinions past a contact who agreed with my assessment and projected him as a second baseman at the major league level.
One scout in attendance compared Nick Franklin to Adam Kennedy, a player who has strung together a 14-year career of 20+ WAR results. Through Kennedy’s peak years (2002-2005), he averaged 3.25 WAR/season combining strong defensive metrics with offensive numbers just a touch over league average. The comp isn’t perfect on paper as Franklin is likely to both produce better power and strikeout more, but the gist of this comp is understood. Nick Franklin has the skill set of a player who should spend many years contributing in some capacity at the game’s highest level. For any prospect, that’s extremely high praise.