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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

July 26, 2011 at 3:23 PM

Mariner minor-league report: Updates on Marcus Littlewood, Nick Franklin, Dennis Raben

Here is today’s Mariner minor-league report.

The most interesting development today is news that Marcus Littlewood, last year’s second-round pick out of Pine View High School in Utah, is being converted to catcher. Jason Churchill of Prospect Insider first tweeted the news, which he credited Keith Law of ESPN with unearthing. At any rate, the Mariners confirmed it, and Pedro Grifol, their director of minor-league operations, discussed it with me. Littlewood is just 19 years old and was drafted as an infielder, one who was thought to have high upside. He began this season at Class A Clinton, where he hit .158 in 27 games while playing almost exclusively at shortstop. When Everett began its Northwest League season, Littlewood was transferred there, and has hit .244 in 31 games (30 at shortstop, one at second base) with two homers and 14 RBIs.

Grifol said the move is an experiment that Littlewood is on board with. “This is not, ‘This is what you’re going to do,’ ” he said. “It’s, ‘Hey, let look at this thing and see where it goes and how much you like it.’ ”

The Mariners look at Littlewood’s size (6-3, 198 pounds) and athleticism and believe he has a chance to succeed at a position that’s notoriously hard to fill.

“If you look at the makeup of the kid, his ability, what he brings to the table, there’s a possibility he can do it,” Grifol said. “Look at guys who have been converted in the past. A lot have been middle infielders who were athletic. Marcus fits that bill.”

Grifol said Littlewood will continue to play shortstop for Everett until the conclusion of their season in September, though he has already begun working on catching with Roger Hansen, the Mariners’ minor-league catching coordinator. Littlewood will then move to the Arizona Instructional League in mid-September, where he’ll work on catching full-time.

“We’ll get a better feel once he’s down here (in Arizona) daily with Roger to see where this thing can go,” Grifol said. “We all think this can be a nice move. We’ve got one of the best catching guys in baseball, if not the best, in Roger Hansen.”

In other news, another shortstop, Nick Franklin, has been besieged with medical issues that have kept him out of action since June 28. It started shortly after his promotion to Class AA Jackson, where Franklin was 9-for-15 in his first four games. But then he was hit in the jaw by a teammate’s bat, landing him on the disabled list. While recovering from that injury, Franklin developed food poisoning, and then was diagnosed with mononucleosis. Grifol said Franklin’s only now feeling better, and will report to the Mariners’ complex in Peoria, Ariz. this week — perhaps as soon as today — to resume baseball work and get back into shape. He lost 12 to 14 pounds during his illness. Grifol said they’ll “take it slow,” and don’t have a target date for Franklin’s return to Jackson. “It all depends on how he reacts,” Grifol said. The Mariners envision Franklin playing in the Arizona Fall League after the season.

One other update: first baseman Dennis Raben, who was tearing up the California League with High Desert (.330, 18 homers, 75 RBIs in 76 games), had arthroscopic knee surgery and will be out four to six weeks, Grifol said. A second-round pick out of the University of Miami in 2008, Raben missed all of 2009 after microfracture surgery on his right knee.

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