The Seattle Mariners have been regarded as an organization on the rise over the past several years, with groups of pitching prospects earning catchy nicknames and young hitters ascending to the big leagues and finding themselves in everyday roles at key positions for the club. But first Jesus Montero was sent down to give up on catching and work on improving his approach at the plate to try and get to his plus hitting and power tools, then Dustin Ackley was demoted, an endeavor to get himself right after a "rough stretch" of nearly 250 games that saw his plate discipline disappear, and finally right-hander Brandon Maurer was given a ride to Tacoma to attempt to unlock the key to getting out left-handed hitters and enable his plus stuff to shine rather than fall flat.
That type of mass prospect exodus can understandably dampen the mood of fans that haven't seen playoff baseball for over a decade and who have been hearing the words "plan" and "process" far too much. But perhaps there is still a reason to be hopeful for Mariner faithful.
That reason is Nick Franklin.
Long regarded as one of the top prospects in the system, Franklin burst onto the scene back in 2010 when he hit a league best 23 home runs and showed patience and speed to boot for Low-A Clinton in his first full season of professional ball. His star lost some shine through an injury-riddled 2011 campaign that saw him only take the field 85 times outside of the complex leagues, but in 2012 he made it to the top of the minor league ladder, cracking Tacoma's roster in late-June at the age of 21. Franklin had some adjustments to make in Triple-A where more advanced pitching can wreak havoc on young players, but he ended the season by making encouraging strides in the plate discipline numbers.
That trend continued as 2013 got underway, and he was showing off all of the tools that were praised and the results that were projected from a few seasons prior. When Franklin was finally summoned to Seattle he had posted a line of .324/.440/.472 with 13 extra base hits, seven steals in seven attempts and 30 walks to only 20 strikeouts through 177 plate appearances for the Rainiers. The offensive thump that he was generating from a slightly bigger frame and his improved plate discipline were making Franklin a complete prospect; one that was ready for the big leagues. His two-homer game in San Diego's (now maybe not so) spacious Petco Park on Thursday seems to be validating that view in the minds of fans.
That two homer game conjured up some names of a more prolific time, when Mariners youngsters ascended to the big leagues and hit the ground running. Ken Griffey, Jr., Alex Rodriguez. Nick Franklin.
Even outside of the home runs, Franklin has hit the ball hard in his five game exordium to major league baseball, and from both sides of the plate. Through the years in the M's system, Nick has shown a quick swing that produces surprising above-average power, he's displayed excellent plate discipline and the ability and willingness to stay back on balls and use the entire field, even showing power to the opposite field from both sides of the plate. He has solid speed but excellent quickness and instincts on the bases and his overall understanding of the game of baseball and his fearless personality allow him to maximize all of his tools in game action. Franklin also exudes confidence on the diamond, even being called "cocky" by some talent observers. But with all the tough times that the quiet, reserved youngsters Montero, Ackley, Maurer and Justin Smoak have endured, perhaps a double shot of "cocky" is just what the doctor ordered in Seattle.
Nick Franklin has the tools and the personality to offer hope to Mariners fans looking for any reason to stay excited about the 2013 version of the team. And if he clicks, maybe - just maybe - the club will start to prosper at the big league level and finally see results on the major league field instead of just in the prospect rankings.