May 28, 2013
The Situation: Second baseman Dustin Ackley came out of college considered an elite-level hitter who would quickly establish himself in the big leagues. Ackley has never fulfilled his potential in three seasons in Seattle, totaling a .237/.307/.344 line in 1,215 plate appearances. With his continued struggles (.205/.266/.250 this year) and a Seattle offense that is hitting just .241/.310/.392 as a team, changes needed to be made. Enter Nick Franklin. Franklin, the team’s fourth-ranked prospect entering the year, has been called up to replace Ackley, who was optioned to Triple-A.
Background: A first-round pick in 2009, Franklin signed for $1.28 million and hit .333/.354/.476 in a 16-game debut that spanned the rookie-level Arizona League and short-season Northwest League. The following year Franklin exploded with a .281 average in the offensively difficult Midwest League, punching 22 doubles and a whopping 23 home runs as a 19-year old. With lofty expectations in the California League in 2011, Franklin stumbled as myriad injuries took their toll. After hitting .275 in 64 games for High Desert, Franklin was tested with an assignment to Double-A Jackson where he ripped off a .325/.371/.482 line in 21 games. The Mariners returned Franklin to Double-A in 2012 and he again torched the Southern League with a .896 OPS and 25 extra-base hits in 57 games. He struggled after a promotion to Triple-A in the second half, hitting just .243, though he did knock 27 extra-base hits in 64 games. Back in Triple-A to start the 2013 season, Franklin made the necessary adjustments and has hit .324/.440/.472 so far this season.
Scouting Report: No matter where he plays in the field Franklin is a bat-first player. He is limited at shortstop, offering only modest range and an arm that earns below-average to fringe-average grades. He has decent hands and solid instincts but they are not enough to make him a palatable defender on the left side of the infield long term. If he is shifted to second base permanently, a position he has played extensively in the minor leagues, Franklin could be an average defender with an average arm for the position. Offensively, Franklin stands out for his ability to make consistent hard contact and drive the ball to all fields. He has a line-drive swing that will max out with 15-18 home runs a year, but should also generate 30-plus doubles at his peak. Franklin’s swing is simple and compact from the left side, allowing him to work counts and hit for a high average. From the right side, Franklin’s swing has a tendency to get long, adding more miss to his game and resulting in less punch. Franklin projects as an above average to plus hitter with good power and the ability to steal 10-15 bases a year thanks to average speed and decent baserunning instincts. Franklin will need time to adjust to major-league pitching but once he settles in he should be a solid everyday option for the Mariners.
Immediate Big-League Future: With the lack of offense in Seattle, there is nothing preventing the 22-year old Franklin from seizing an everyday job going forward. All indications right now point to the job being his as long as he hits and shows progress. —Mark Anderson
Fantasy Impact: Every transaction has a happy side and a sad side, and Nick Franklin's promotion is no exception, as it comes at the expense of can't miss prospect and fantasy bust Dustin Ackley. The question surrounding Franklin's fantasy value was always whether his defense would be good enough him get into the lineup as a shortstop in the short-term, but with Ackley removing himself temporarily from the equation, Franklin retains a new level of staying power--as long as he hits, of course.
The talent level is there for Franklin to be worth owning in all but the shallowest of leagues this season, but the Mariners have had an extraordinarily hard time transitioning minor league talent into major league success as an organization. On the surface, Franklin should be able to step in and hit around .275 while potentially adding near double-digits in the money categories (homers and steals). However, with Safeco and Ackley lurking, there is risk here.
Let's start with the easy part, Franklin should be owned in all dynasty formats and the vast majority of keeper leagues (except leagues where fewer than 100 players are kept in total). In AL-only formats, Franklin is worth a hefty FAAB bid if he is not owned. If you're not strong in the middle infield, a $20 bid could be warranted here. In mixed leagues, Franklin should be at least speculatively owned in anything 12 teams or deeper, unless there is no MI spot. —Bret Sayre
Mark Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @ProspectMark