Young Mariner Franklin Packs Surprising Punch
BELOIT, Wis.—If Nick Franklin wasn't one of the game's elite shortstop prospects, he just might have a career in the weight-loss industry.
Entering spring training at 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, Franklin lost 20 pounds in less than six months in going from wiry to a pipe cleaner in his first full season. The Mariners' 2009 first-round pick has adapted to life with Clinton and its 140-game schedule.
"I'm happy with how I'm performing, but it's been a long season," Franklin said. "I'm going to keep working hard and fight through it."
Franklin didn't project as a power-hitting middle infielder, but his numbers this season speak otherwise. The 19-year old switch-hitter clubbed his Midwest League-leading 19th home run on Aug. 3 at Quad Cities and was three homers shy of tying the club's single-season record, set by Dick Kenworthy in 1961.
"I've always had good power from the left side (of the plate), but nobody can tell because I'm a smaller guy," Franklin said. "It's all about torque with me."
Franklin never lifted weights until his senior year at Lake Brantley (Fla.) High, where he led the team to the Florida 6-A title in 2008 and carried it to the playoffs the following year with 10 home runs.
The 27th overall pick homered once in 63 at-bats in his pro debut last year with stops in the Rookie-level Arizona League and short-season Northwest League.
Even Franklin, whose confidence rates an 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale according to Clinton hitting coach Terry Pollreisz, can't believe he's challenging for the league and team home run crown.
"It's surprising," Franklin said. "Even the Seattle (front office), they didn't think I was going to put up power numbers. I just have that wiry, quick torque and get around on pitches."
The MWL all-star is still refining his approach as a switch-hitter. Through 435 at-bats, Franklin batted .277/.336/.478. That broke down as .300/.370/.536 with 17 home runs from the left side (323 at-bats) and .196/.231/.313 with two home runs from the right (112 at-bats).
"We're trying to get the same type of approach that he does so well lefthanded over to his right side," Pollreisz said. "It's an ongoing thing with a switch-hitter. Eventually, 70 percent of the time he's going to be hitting lefthanded. We just need to maintain the right side."
Franklin turned in one of his finest games of the season May 16 against visiting Cedar Rapids. In a game loaded with talent on both sides, Franklin outshined Angels prospects Mike Trout and Fabio Martinez.
After Trout led off the game with a solo home run, Franklin answered in the bottom of the first inning with a lead-off bomb off the flame-throwing Martinez, homered again in the eighth and delivered a walk-off double over Trout's head with two outs in the 10th inning.
Franklin went 3-for-5 and drove in three runs in the 4-3 victory.
"He's a huge prospect, we're all aware of that," Pollreisz said. "He just needs to learn how to adjust. The faster he does that the faster he'll move through the minor leagues."
Franklin, who's often compared to Rangers third baseman (and former shortstop) Michael Young, said he's received a steady dose of offspeed pitches since the all-star break.
"One time I was leading off and there was a changeup, first pitch of the game," Franklin said. "I was like, 'Where did that come from?' I'm starting to adjust. I like seeing the offspeed stuff now. If they're going to adjust to me, I'll adjust to them."
The Mariners have a pair of 19-year old shortstop prospects at Clinton in Franklin and Gabriel Noriega. Franklin had played 23 games at second base this season, but he said he's most comfortable at shortstop.
"Most of my errors are throwing (errors) when I'm trying to turn a double play or if I've charged it and got rid of it quickly," Franklin said. "I feel very confident at short."
The Mariners plan on sending Franklin to their co-op league in Arizona after the season. The league was designed as somewhat of an advanced instructional league for participating organizations to send prospects not competing in the Arizona Fall League.
"This past offseason, I worked extremely hard, not just on my strength but mostly on power movements," Franklin said. "I'm going to continue to work out this offseason and I'm really looking forward to putting on a lot of weight."
Franklin entered spring training at an ideal weight but lost it from the daily grind of professional baseball and due to sickness.
"I got sick in spring training and lost eight pounds, and then I came (to Clinton) and got sick twice with allergies and the flu," Franklin said. "I got sick so bad I couldn't even finish a half of a sub (sandwich). Even though I'm down (to 160 pounds), I still have my power. That's encouraging. I'm looking forward to the playoffs and getting this team a championship."
The Mariners opted to keep Franklin in the MWL all season, while the Angels gave Trout a midseason promotion to the high Class A California League.
Pollreisz said it made sense for Franklin to stay put.
"He was sick and that affected him almost all of June," Pollreisz said. "For him to be able to stay strong and healthy and run his 500 at-bats up there is what's important. The lessons he was going through here, he was learning and he still maintained a decent average and was hitting home runs. I think it was good for him to finish here. It's hard telling how fast he might move now."
Jeffrey Zampanti covers baseball for the Kenosha (Wis.) News