When we heard about the players the Tampa Bay Rays acquired in the David Price trade, it was clear that left-hander Drew Smyly would join their major league roster while shortstop Willy Adames headed to Low-A Bowling Green. Less clear, though, was where Nick Franklin would end up. The 23 year old infielder had split time between Triple-A Tacoma and the big leagues for the Seattle Mariners in 2014, staying primarily with the Rainiers rather than the M’s because of the presence of Robinson Cano. However, he was heading to a new organization with more opportunities available, so it seemed likely that the Rays would immediately put him on their 25-man roster. Instead, Franklin will head to Triple-A Durham, the beginning of his impact for the Rays still likely weeks away. Why are the Rays waiting to give their new young infielder a chance?
If Rays fans weren’t upset enough about the Price deal, Nick Franklin’s assignment to Triple-A only added to the frustration. After all, the Rays had Cole Figueroa on their roster, who is off to a 3 for 26 start to his major league career and lacks the potential to justify much patience. Do the Rays really believe that Figueroa is better than Franklin? If it wasn’t already obvious, absolutely not. Figueroa was kept over Franklin for one simple reason: playing time. The Rays did not trade Matt Joyce or another position player at the deadline, so there are not a ton of at-bats available. They could insert Franklin into the mix with players like Brandon Guyer, Logan Forsythe, and Sean Rodriguez, but Franklin is a more talented player than that and his abilities would be wasted in such a role. Adding a fourth player to that rotation would only hurt everyone involved while still not giving Franklin regular at-bats. It isn’t worth a marginal upgrade to Figueroa to have Franklin spending too much time on the bench.
The argument can made that Franklin is so much better than Guyer, Forsythe, and Rodriguez that he deserves to be starting over them. It becomes more clear that he should be at Triple-A when we factor in the things that the Rays will have him work on. Franklin would need to fit in a super-utility role with the Rays at this point, but he has played the outfield just four times as a pro. Franklin will be able to get much more experience at both corner outfield spots at Durham, and he could eventually become a strong defender at both positions. Franklin also has issues with left-handed pitching as a switch-hitter, managing just a .636 OPS the last four years. Franklin has steadily improved in that regard, but the Rays would like to give him more work before they start him over their solid platoon options against lefties. If the Rays like, they may even look to convert Franklin to a pure left-handed hitter, as has been mentioned as an option for him in the past. It would certainly be an adjustment for him to start having fastballs move away from him, but it could be worth a try to see if it leads to improved performance. The Rays will probably have Franklin stay a switch-hitter, but keeping him at Triple-A gives them the flexibility to make a change if they so choose.
What has to be made clear is that Nick Franklin is not at Triple-A because he is incapable of helping the Rays or because they want to stall his arbitration clock. He will remain with the Durham Bulls for a while to work on a few key facets of his game, and he should be a better long-term player because of his time there. There is plenty of reason to be excited about Nick Franklin, but Rays fans will just have to wait a little longer to see why.