On Monday night, the Rays and Dodgers agreed to a deal sending Logan Forsythe to Los Angeles for pitching prospect Jose De Leon. Jeff Sullivan wrote about Forsythe’s and Brian Dozier’s similarities, and Dave Cameron analyzed the trade. The deal leaves a hole at the keystone position in Tampa Bay. Paul Sporer briefly touched on the deal opening up some playing time for Nick Franklin, “if they don’t bring someone else in.”
The current depth chart on the Rays’ team website which is projected by MLB.com shows Franklin atop the heap at second base, and Bill Chastain of MLB.com speculates Franklin and Tim Beckham “appear to be the most likely candidates to fill in at second base.” Chastain added that Rays senior vice president of baseball operations and general manager Erik Neander, “would not commit to one name.” Of the two names suggested, Franklin is the far more exciting option.
They also setup nicely for a platoon with the switch-hitting Franklin hitting right-handed pitching much better than left-handed pitching and Beckham fairing much better against southpaws than right-handed hurlers. With a clearer path to playing time, Franklin looks like a highly intriguing dart throw at a very minimal investment (NFBC’s draft data has Franklin’s ADP at 523.16 with a minimum pick of 451 and a maximum of 604), though, it’s important to note his position eligibility will be quite different around the industry.
Franklin was a man without a defensive home last year. He made six starts (nine appearances) at first base, seven starts (eight appearances) at second base, five starts at shortstop, 16 starts (18 appearances) in left field and five starts (seven appearances) in right field. At ESPN, Franklin will only be outfield eligible (if they follow their position eligibility protocol, but that doesn’t always prove to be the case year to year). At Yahoo!, CBS and in Ottoneu leagues, he’ll be eligible at all of the positions he appeared at in 2016, per the eligibility guidelines laid out for Yahoo!, CBS and Ottoneu. In larger leagues, I love having a Swiss Army Knife-like player on the bench. However, even at ESPN, Franklin is worth nabbing if you buy into him building on last year’s most successful work in The Show to date for him.
Franklin was originally drafted in the first round of the 2009 MLB amateur draft by the Mariners and reached the majors for a 412 plate appearance rookie season with Seattle in 2013. He wasn’t dreadful tallying a 93 wRC+, but he received more minor-league seasoning at the Triple-A level to start the 2014 season, face planted after his call up and was shipped to Tampa Bay. He struggled initially with the Rays, but he’s hit well at the Triple-A level the last two years (10.7% BB%, 21.0% K%, .264/.339/.443, .179 ISO, 125 wRC+, 16 homers and 14 stolen bases in 18 attempts in 495 plate appearances). His minor-league success didn’t translate to the majors in 2015, but he may have turned a corner last year.
In 191 plate appearances last year, Franklin recorded a 6.3% BB%, 22.0% K% and 110 wRC+. He also paired useful over-the-fence power with speed hitting a half-dozen homers and stealing a half-dozen bases in seven stolen base attempts. Prior to last year, avoiding strike three was a problem for Franklin (26.3% K%). His poor strikeout rate was predictably accompanied by a poor contact rate (73.8%) and plenty of swing and miss (13.1% SwStr%). Last year, Franklin improved his contact rate to 78.3% and cut his SwStr% to 10.7%. His contact% was basically league average, and his SwStr% was a bit worse than the league average of 10.1%. Franklin didn’t go fishing out of the strike zone all that often (30.4% O-Swing% compared to 30.3% league average), and he was aggressive in the zone (72.0% Z-Swing% compared to 66.7% for the league average). The switch-hitter’s selective aggression helped him keep his strikeout rate within 1% of the league average (21.1% in 2016), but it also resulted in a below league average walk rate of 6.3% (8.2% was the league average in 2016). Franklin’s walk rate in the upper minors the last two years and his 10.2% BB% in his rookie season provide me some optimism he can improve in that department this year, and Steamer’s in agreement projecting a 8.5% BB%.
I’m buying Franklin’s ability to reach the mid to upper-teens in homers on the heavy side of a platoon. There were 362 players who totaled a minimum of 190 plate appearances last year, and Franklin’s 43.5% FB% was the 37th highest among them. He hovered around the middle of the pack with a 30.6% Hard%, and he ranked tied for 70th with a 44.8% Pull%. Since Franklin is a liability against lefties, it’s worth noting that against right-handed pitchers, his FB% surges to 48.1%, his Pull% drops slightly to 43.4% and his Hard% jumps to 34.9%. The soon-to-be 26-year-old’s ability to lift the ball frequently while pulling it and putting a charge into it when facing righties bodes well for him reaching him slugging 15-20 homers. Furthermore, according to StatCorner, Tropicana Field has a 112 park factor for left-handed homers using their 3-year rolling average.
The homers alone aren’t all that exciting with power up across the game, but they’re a useful total and pair nicely with his stolen base potential. In addition to stealing six bases in seven attempts in the majors last year, he also swiped 10 in 11 attempts in 64 games and 270 plate appearances for Triple-A Durham. He’s reached double-digit steals every professional season except for 2015 (five steals in eight attempts in 101 games and 293 plate appearances in Triple-A and the Majors combined). The Rays attempted the 10th fewest stolen base attempts in 2016 with 97, so don’t go overboard with Franklin’s stolen base projection, but another double-digit steal season in his professional career is well within reach. A double-double plays well at Franklin’s draft price in the outfield, at second base or all over the diamond at the fantasy baseball providers where he carries four-position eligibility (not splitting his outfield eligibility into left and right field), and there’s some run production potential, too, depending on where Franklin lands in Tampa Bay’s revamped lineup.
You can follow Josh on Twitter @bchad50.