Nick Franklin, ss
Age: 19. Position: SS (33 G), 2B (15 G).
Born: March 2, 1991 in Longwood, Fla.
Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 170. Bats: B. Throws: R.
School: Lake Brantley HS, Altamonte Springs, Fla.
Career Transactions: Selected by Mariners in first round (27th overall) of 2009 draft; signed
Aug. 15, 2009.
Jerry Sands and Mike Trout have supplied many of the fireworks in the low Class A Midwest League this season, but taken in context, Nick Franklin’s achievements have been just as impressive. The 19-year-old Clinton shortstop ranks second in the MWL in slugging (.568) and extra-base hits (25) and third in home runs (nine) and hits (64).
Adding to the intrigue, Franklin has less pro experience than either Sands or Trout. He appeared in just 16 game last summer after signing with the Mariners for $1.28 million.
But Franklin played so well in spring training that Seattle opted to send him directly to the Midwest League, where his bat has proven ready but where he’s had to share the shortstop position with Gabriel Noriega. Two other Mariners prospects man the infield corners for the LumberKings: Mario Martinez at third and Dennis Raben at first.
That group of players, along with help from the likes of Dan Carroll, Vinnie Catricala and James Jones, have led Clinton on an incredible 17-4 tear in their past 21 games. After beginning the year at 13-18, the club has surged back into the playoff picture as its young players have gained experience.
We caught up with Franklin last week to discuss his hot start.
Congratulations on your fast start. You’re demolishing the Midwest League. What’s your secret?
“Oh, nothing really. For me, it’s about having the same approach each game. I’m not trying to take it as a full season but to take each game one at a time. You know, just play the game—if it turns out right, it turns out right at the end. I like to treat each series as a new season.”
Has the adjustment to the colder spring weather been difficult?
“It was at first, but I’ve started getting used to it. It was really cold in the beginning, so I started putting warmer clothes on. So about 10 games in, I started getting acclimated to the weather. Now, it’s getting hotter, so I find that I’m getting acclimated to that. So I need to do things like keep hydrating more.”
Did you get to visit Seattle’s Safeco Field last year when you signed?
“Yeah, I signed right before signing day, so on the 15th (of August) they sent me out there and I had a workout on the field with the coaches and players. They were playing the Yankees. I got to take BP and after that defensive work on the field. I got to meet a lot of great people while I was out there. Then I signed the next day and they sent me to Arizona.
“It was a great experience there for me in Seattle. I got to work out with some of the Mariners. You know, in the first hitting group you had Griffey and Ichiro. Then came the four, five, six hitters. I was in the seven, eight, nine group. That’s also when the Yankees came out and started stretching on the field.”
What’s been the biggest adjustment for you going from amateur ball to the pros?
“The biggest thing is the game is a lot different. There’s a lot more to learn at the level you’re playing at. Where in high school, it’s more go out there and just play.
“Here in this league, we have guys who can throw their fastball 90-95 (mph) any time they want. Then they have a secondary pitch that they can throw for a strike any time they want. In high school, you didn’t have to watch for offspeed so much because they couldn’t throw it for strikes. It speeds up the game for you. You have to do a lot more thinking rather than just go out and play.”
Did traveling with Team USA prepare you at all for life in the minors?
“With Team USA, we’d go to one place and stay there, whether it was Canada or Venezuela. It wasn’t like we were traveling one to one and a half hours every other series. It’s different, but at the same time, I just got used to being away and playing away at different fields, different places.”
What’s it been like learning to play second base?
“When I compare second base to shortstop, I’d say that shortstop is probably a bit more into the game—where second base is an easier and more laid back state of mind. It’s really no change for me—the only difference is working on the double play.
“But other than that it’s just what Seattle wants me to do. It’s my routine. I’d say for the most part it’s a lot easier. I really like playing shortstop, so second base just comes easier to me.”
You play as part of a pretty star-studded prospect infield with Clinton. What have you learned by getting a chance to play with those guys?
“I try to watch them, try to pick up things. But at the same time, I worry about what I have to do. So if I’m playing DH, I can see how they play compared with the way I play, just kind of picking up things that I can do differently.”
What do you do to keep both your lefthanded and righthanded swings working?
“Right now, I’d say I’m taking more righthanded swings because I feel I’m more advanced batting lefthanded. It makes me feel more comfortable in games than it would if I prepared by taking a bunch of swings lefthanded. It’s hard when you bat righthanded just once in every four games or so. It’s something I have to adjust to.”
Do you feel like there’s a difference between the two swings?
“I thought about that not too long ago. I’ve been trying to mirror my lefthanded side, because before my swing was a little different on the righthanded side. On the right side, my stance would be a bit wider, where on the left side I’d be taller and a bit open.”
You’ve really picked it up as a righthanded batter lately. Was it just a matter of getting more reps from that side?
“Yes, that’s it. That’s one of the things I’ve been working on more recently. I’ve just been getting more reps, because you’re just not seeing too many lefthanded pitchers in high school.”
Who’s the toughest pitcher you’ve faced?
“I faced (Quad Cities righthander) Shelby Miller a few weeks ago. I feel like I did a pretty good job off him. In Arizona (this spring), I faced (Justin) Masterson, and he definitely had one of the toughest two-seam fastballs I’ve seen, running at about 93 (mph).”
(Note: Clinton rocked Miller, the Cardinals’ first-round pick last year, for seven runs in 4 1/3 innings on May 7—though the rigthy did strike out eight LumberKings. Franklin led off and went 2-for-3 versus Miller, singling to left and right field. He went 1-for-2 in stolen base attempts in that time.)
What sorts of things have the Mariners asked you to work on?
“They just tell us to go out and play hard. Hustle and play hard. Stay consistent about the way you go about the game, whether you go 0-for-4 or 6-for-6. Don’t get too down or too hyped. Just stay the same, on the same level.”