For all of the problems the Tampa Bay Rays have had with starting pitching, their real problem is hitting. On Sunday, they blew another quality start by Jake Odorizzi because they couldn’t score three runs in the entire game. The Rays desperately need to score more, and as they have never been in deep in position players, don’t look to Triple-A Durham for much help.
Maybe Mikie Mahtook will be the answer, but the Rays passed on him during the last call-up in favor of 29-year-old Triple-A veteran Joey Butler. The next man up seems to be rehabbing infielder Nick Franklin. Could he help this team’s offense? It’s another Rays mystery about to unfold.
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The Nick Franklin story is pretty well-documented. Selected in the Seattle Mariners at 27th overall in the 2009 MLB Draft, Franklin emerged as a top-50 (or close to it) prospect in baseball before making his big league debut in 2013. He played decently enough as Seattle’s starting second baseman that year, but they signed Robinson Cano the following offseason and he found himself back in the minor leagues. Franklin played only sparingly in the big leagues with the Mariners in 2014 before the Mariners dealt him to acquire Austin Jackson from Detroit in the David Price deal.
In a late 2014 audition with the Rays, Franklin didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard either. By the end of the season, his major league slash line stood at .213/.289/.358 through 502 plate appearances. Despite those numbers, Franklin was penciled in as the Opening Day second baseman for the Rays. Halfway through spring training, however, he went down with the dreaded oblique injury and has been on the DL ever since. Franklin is now at Durham on a rehab assignment and has hit .273 in four games while playing second base, shortstop, and DH.
Franklin is not far from being ready to return, and the Rays’ choice at that time will be complicated. The Rays could bring him up and put him at second base as planned in spring training, but Logan Forsythe is the current second baseman and is one of the few Rays delivering offensive punch. It is hard to believe that Franklin would displace Forsythe as the starter at the keystone and that makes his spot on the team much less clear.
The good news for the Rays is that Franklin has some versatility as he has seen some time in the outfield in addition to the two middle infield spots. The Rays could use another left-handed hitter while Desmond Jennings is out, and Franklin could be that guy, replacing the unimpressive Butler. David DeJesus could even slide to left field if the Rays would rather keep Franklin away from the outfield. If they think this guy can hit, they have the ability to create some at-bats for him.
Once Jennings returns, though, Franklin’s playing time will get much more difficult to manage. Franklin could be a super-sub at a few different spots, but there would be no position where he could receive regular at-bats. He could be a backup infielder, but Tim Beckham has done a good job off the bench (despite his recent struggles at the plate) and may be a better defensive shortstop than Franklin. The Rays could eventually option Beckham while keeping Franklin on the roster, but would that really make their team better?
The guys that are not doing the job with the bat for the Tampa Bay Rays are veterans such as Asdrubal Cabrera and Rene Rivera plus touted rookie Steven Souza Jr. Those wouldn’t be the guys that Franklin would replace–instead, it would be middle-of-the-road players like Forsythe, DeJesus, and Brandon Guyer, but all of them are playing well. Once Jennings returns, Franklin will be in a battle to find playing time. He will be called up when he is healthy, but he has work to do as he hopes to prove himself as an impact player for this team.