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November 7, 2011 at 8:08 AM

Big day in Arizona for Mariners prospects Nick Franklin and Danny Hultzen

There was some baseball played alongside another football weekend, with the Arizona Fall League staging its annual Rising Stars game. And two Mariners prospects rose taller than most, with shortstop Nick Franklin going 4-for-5 with a home run and two doubles, while pitcher Danny Hultzen struck out the side in the first inning en route to two hitless frames and just one walk allowed.
Franklin’s three extra-base hits and four runs batted in were both Rising Stars game records.
“We went out there to have a good time and started to put some runs on the board,” Franklin said after the game. “We started having some fun in the dugout and it carried over.”
Hultzen said: “I was excited. There were a lot of people in the stands, a big crowd and you are out there playing with some of the best guys in the world. You can’t not be excited about that.”
The performances clearly bode well for both. But what does it mean for the Mariners?

Well, when it comes to making the major league squad this season, Hultzen has taken a big step forward with his performance throughout the AFL. The Mariners were already prepared to give Hultzen a shot at making the team this spring. But there’s a big difference between giving a guy a shot and seriously considering him.
Right now, though, if you’re looking at a second lefty for the rotation, there really isn’t anybody leaps and bounds ahead of Hultzen. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a difference between dominating top prospects in Arizona and getting outs at the major league level the way Charlie Furbush did in August and September. Point is, Furbush didn’t always get those outs. He didn’t establish himself as a bonafide major league starter the way the Mariners had hoped he might.
Hultzen has yet to do that either. He won’t face major league hitters until this spring. But like Michael Pineda last spring, the job is there for the taking. If Hultzen can show that he’s capable of getting big leaguers out, that just could vault him ahead of some others and win him a longshot bid.
Don’t forget, he’ll also be going up against another left-handed prospect, James Paxton, who already has a Class AA season behind him. Hultzen would be trying to jump from college ball to the majors without so much as any affiliated pro ball behind him other than the AFL.
That’s still a tall order. A lot of it will also depend on whether the M’s go out and acquire another starting pitcher this winter. I’m guessing they will. They have Felix Hernandez, Pineda, Jason Vargas and Blake Beavan looking like Opening Day roster members for the rotation right now. There’s room for improvement.
If I had to guess, I’d say Hultzen could make the team at some point this season, though probably not out of spring training.
Hultzen likely will, however, make the majors ahead of Franklin.
That’s not a slight on Franklin, just a reflection of reality. Unlike the rotation, there isn’t a whole lot of room for Franklin to crack the major league roster as a shortstop right now. The team invested in Brendan Ryan for a reason and he was one of the top defensive players in the majors at his position. Seattle is also trying to figure out what to do with Kyle Seager, who would appear to be next in line for a shortstop job should anything happen to Ryan.
All of this means there is still time for Franklin to work on the defensive aspects of his game as well as on honing his hitting skills from both sides of the plate. Defensively, Franklin remains a work in progress. I’m told the team sees Class AAA shortstop Carlos Triunfel as a more finished defensive product at this point and that’s saying something, given how raw he’d looked playing shortstop at times throughout an up and down minor league career.
But Triunfel’s power at the lower levels of the minors hasn’t followed him up the ladder, meaning all that talk of shifting him to third base will likely be shelved for now. If Triunfel is a shortstop going forward, he’s likely ahead of Franklin as well.
Now, all of that can change this winter if Triunfel is moved as part of a trade package. We’ll see whether Seager makes it to spring training without being traded as well.
But for now, it looks like the only way Franklin plays for the Mariners in 2012 will be as a September call-up.
That doesn’t take anything away from what Franklin and Hultzen did this weekend. It was a positive development, both for them and the team.

Comments | Topics: Brendan Ryan


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