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

May 1, 2013 at 9:27 AM

Nick Franklin making a strong case for promotion

franklinmug

Sometimes, a player simply can’t be denied. And Nick Franklin is starting to look like that player.

Franklin’s 2013 season got off to a provocative start when he showed up in camp as a non-roster invitee, and told Geoff the story of his 6,500-calorie-a-day winter diet, all in the pursuit of reaching 200 pounds. Franklin wanted more strength and better stamina after feeling that he had hit a wall the previous season. Eyebrows were raised, wisecracks were made. The Mariners got him to tone down the binge eating, but perhaps Franklin knew what he was doing in his preparation for this season.

He has been a monster in Tacoma. After missing the early part of the season with illness, Franklin has been just about the best hitter in all of the minor leagues. In 17 games, he’s hitting .410 (25-for-61), after going 3-for-3 last night (five days after going 5-for-5). He has 16 walks and  just eight strikeouts, good for a .538 on-base percentage. He has three homers and four doubles, helping build a .623 slugging percentage. His OPS is 1.161. He’s stolen four bases in four attempts. A switch-hitter, he’s hitting .571 against left-handers and .389 against right-handers. He’s hitting .400 at home, .419 on the road, .400 in day games, .412 in night games.

Yeah, it’s just 17 games. Yeah, he’s just 22 years old. But Franklin has always been a Mariners prospect targeted for big things, ever since he was drafted in the first round in 2009. The Mariners had two first round picks that year. Dustin Ackley went with the first one, No. 2 overall. Franklin went 25 picks later, out of Lake Brantley High School in Florida.

This is his fifth season in the minors, so it’s not like they’ve rushed him. He’s hit everywhere he’s been. Last year, he struggled some once he went up to Tacoma (.243./.310/.416 in 64 games), but now he appears to have conquered Triple-A pitching. And the Mariners definitely need an offensive boost at shortstop, with Brendan Ryan hitting .149 and losing his full-time shortstop status to Robert Andino, who is hitting  .200.

The question is whether Franklin can handle major-league shortstop defensively, and there are some doubters. He has played just six games at short for Tacoma, and 10 at second base. I don’t see the Mariners moving Ackley out of second base, not when he’s hot (a 10-game hit streak in which he’s  well over .300) and has his average on the upswing.  But the fact is, Ackley has three extra-base-hits, one RBI, and a .570 OPS with nearly 20 percent of the season gone. There could be some playing time to be had at second base.

Franklin is not on the 40-man roster, so room would have to be made. Someone would also have to come off the major-league roster, of course. I doubt if the Mariners are ready to cut ties with Andino this soon into the season.

It’s not as cut and dry as it looks. It rarely is. But when a player is hitting .400 at the top level of the minor leagues, his time is coming. Fast.

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