Franklin stronger, more seasoned for second spring
Young Seattle infielder gains 15 pounds, has better idea year after first camp
SEATTLE -- Nick Franklin no longer is the skinny 20-year-old kid trying to be seen but not heard at his first Major League camp with the Mariners.
But when the well-regarded young prospect arrives in Peoria, Ariz., for his second go-round next week, he'll still be looking to show exactly where he does fit in both now and for the future in the Seattle organization.
Drafted as a high school shortstop out of Florida with a late first-round pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, Franklin has been projected by some as more of a second baseman. Despite his lack of size, he surprised many by smoking 23 home runs his first season at Class A Clinton in 2010, but since has readjusted his own line of thinking to remind himself he really isn't a power guy -- even after putting on 15 pounds this offseason to reach his current weight of 193.
So just what is he? According to Franklin, that answer is simple. He's a ballplayer.
"It doesn't matter where they put me," the outgoing youngster said last week during Mariners FanFest. "They could put me in center field and I'd still be happy. As long as I'm in the lineup playing, I'll be more than happy. I don't want to put any labels on myself. Wherever they want me, that's where I'll take it."
Franklin split time at second and short last year for both Double-A Jackson and Triple-A Tacoma. He hit .322 in 57 games at Jackson, and .243 in the last 64 games at Tacoma, combining for 11 home runs and 55 RBIs in the two stops.
He says he doesn't even worry about the home run ball anymore, preferring doubles in the gap to dingers, since that figures to be his game going forward. That was a lesson learned after the initial season of pro ball, when people saw his 23 bombs at Clinton and figured he'd light things up in hitter-friendly High Desert in the California League the following year.
"A lot of people kept asking me, 'How many home runs are you going to hit this year?' They were throwing it out there, throwing it out there, they kept saying, 'When you get to High Desert, you're going to hit 40 home runs,'" Franklin said. "And I got to High Desert and I was like, 'Oh my God, I'm going to hit 40 home runs.'
"Then I started taking batting practice and getting more of a lift swing and started rolling over balls. When I got moved up to Double-A, it was more of a realization, go back to the swing I had. The home runs will come. Ever since then, I've been trying to work my swing back because that High Desert kind of messed with me a little bit."
Franklin's maturation can be measured by his Arizona Fall League results the past two years. He hit .258 with a .727 OPS in 24 games in the AFL in 2011, then improved that to a .338 average and .942 OPS in 20 games this offseason.
He was recently ranked No. 47 on MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects list and has been working out all offseason with trainer Jeff Higuera at a gym in Orlando owned by former NFL linebacker Kawika Mitchell.
"I'm up about 15 pounds from last spring and I feel a lot stronger," Franklin said. "My parents and other people have been telling me I'd get bigger as I got older, and it's starting to become true."
Players also get a little wiser with age and experience. One thing Franklin learned this winter was that pro baseball is indeed a business, as his name was prominently mentioned along with top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker in trade talks between the Mariners and D-backs that would have brought Justin Upton to Seattle.
"Honestly, hearing my name in the trade it was like, 'You know what? I have no control over that,'" Franklin said. "Wherever they put me, I'm going to be the same person I am today. It was kind of fun. You hear it and think, 'Oh wow, that's cool.' But at the same time, I'm just ready to play. Just put me somewhere and I'm ready to play."
If that sounds like Franklin's theme for the spring, so be it. He played in just five Cactus League games last year, going 1-for-7 (.143). He played in some "B" games, got lots of time with coaches in practice and did what he could before being sent to the Minor League camp.
This year, he won't be quite as wide-eyed. He'll turn 22 the first week of March and he'll know a little better where he's going and what is expected. And, yeah, he's ready for it.
"There's a lot of dedication in spring," Franklin said. "You see a lot of guys show up early, working in the cage early. It's a job. Everybody knows it's a job and you have to show up for your job on time and go out there and bust it. If not, you're not going to make it."