Watching Nick Franklin
It would be easy to blame the Mariners for all of Nick Franklin’s shortcomings. It would also be dishonest. Franklin, though talented, possesses blemishes that will need correcting if he is to fulfill his promise.
Convincing someone that Franklin could become a useful player based on his big-league play this season would be a tough sell. He has, for the most part, appeared overmatched: swinging under high fastballs, over low secondaries, and rarely driving the ball. What obvious pros there were to his game—his swing’s loft and his bat’s speed—were obscured by his inability to make consistent contact. True, he would flash some other positives—a decent approach, a lively barrel—but even the worst players create some highlights.
The Rays’ job then is to ensure Franklin shines more often. While part of that process will undoubtedly involve the mental game—not that Franklin lacks confidence—the bigger chore could be fixing his hitting mechanics from the right side.
Throughout Franklin’s professional career, talent evaluators have wondered about the viability of his right-handed swing—to the extent that some have wondered if he should ditch it and become a left-handed hitter exclusively. The biggest complaints tend to involve the rigidness of the swing, which causes the swing to appear less natural and fluid, and his tendency to drift.
The last complaint can be seen from the side angle here (skip to the 30-second mark). Keep an eye on his hands and his front foot. Before his heel can touch the ground, he’s already moving his hands forward. It might seem like a minor thing—after all, he’s going to bring his hands forward anyway, so what’s the harm?—that gliding impacts every aspect of Franklin’s ability to hit, from his plate discipline to his quality of contact (presuming that he would make contact).
Hak-Ju Lee suffered from the same issue not too long ago, so the Rays have dealt with this problem in their minor-league infielders before. The difference being that Lee had one swing to perform maintenance on, whereas Franklin has two. Luckily, his left-handed swing doesn’t have the same flaw. Instead Franklin looks more natural, displaying a better ability to keep his hands back, while creating the loft and hip thrust necessary for a physically unimposing player to generate average or better power. (Additionally, his left-handed finish is reminiscent of Ichiro’s swing.)
Obviously it’s too early to know whether the Rays will have Franklin work on his right-handed swing this season, or if they’ll ask him to ditch switch-hitting entirely. With only a month until rosters expand, it’s possible the Rays let him play out the year, then spend next spring tweaking; alternatively, they could focus on other aspects, such as helping him shore up his command of the strike zone, or getting away from his pull-happy tendencies.
If Franklin does make improvements, either to his right-handed swing or to other elements, then he has the chance to become a starting second baseman, thereby validating the Rays’ longstanding interest in him. And if he doesn’t? Well, the Mariners will probably get blamed for that, too.