Welcome back to the RCG Mailbag, the place where we take those burning Tampa Bay Rays questions on your mind and give you answers.
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Dog asks: What do the Rays do with Nick Franklin? I know most of what we are talking about are outfielders but it just seems as though Franklin isn’t exactly tearing up Triple-A, so what are your thoughts in terms of him being involved in a future trade package?
There are two things that are certain regarding Nick Franklin right now. The first is that he was absolutely horrific during his time with the Tampa Bay Rays this season. The second is that it makes no sense at all to trade him.
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Let’s tell a story. The Rays had a young infielder who looked mediocre in his first showing with the team after he was acquired at the trade deadline. The following season, he was expected to be a major contributor to their middle infield, but instead, he did nothing right. In 66 plate appearances, he hit to just a .159/.156/.222 line while also showing poor defense, and the Rays had no choice but to demote him to Triple-A. He rebounded to a decent extent there, hitting to a .279/.403/.455 line with the Durham Bulls, but that still fell short of his previous minor league production. Though he still had some talent, it was becoming increasingly difficult to believe that he would become a productive player for the Rays.
That player’s name was not Nick Franklin, but Ben Zobrist. People were comparing Franklin to Zobrist when the Rays acquired him in the David Price deal, and thus far, Franklin’s tenure with the team has been remarkably close to Zobrist’s beginning with the franchise in 2006 and 2007. Franklin’s line in the majors with a little bit better than Zobrist’s at .139/.205/.250 in 12 more plate appearances, and his triple-slash at Triple-A isn’t far away either at .264/.338/.471.
Franklin is hitting for more power at Triple-A than Zobrist, but he certainly isn’t getting on-base at the same clip. That being said, Zobrist was putting up his numbers in a more hitter-friendly environment–the 2007 Bulls had a .749 OPS compared to the .728 International League average that year while the 2015 Bulls have a .700 OPS versus the .689 league average. In addition to simply being slightly better in the majors, Franklin also walked 6 times against 24 strikeouts while Zobrist struck out 15 times without a walk. At least in their small major league samples, Franklin’s plate discipline actually looked better.
Of course, not all prospects who come up to the major leagues and sputter turn out to be Ben Zobrist. You could also try to compare Franklin to Reid Brignac, who was excellent in his first full MLB season in 2010 but fell apart in 2011 and never recovered. However, Zobrist’s story reminds us that it is far too early to give up on Franklin, especially given that he didn’t struggle in nearly as large of a sample as Brignac and has played much better than Brignac did since returning to Triple-A. Franklin probably won’t suddenly break out like Zobrist did, but why can’t he be a solid backup infielder? And while the probability of him reaching his potential has certainly decreased, his tools remain and he still has a chance to be a big league regular.
Why should the Rays possibly trade a talented young player at the nadir of his value? Unless a team is crazy about him, the Rays won’t come close to receiving enough value in return for Franklin for it to be worthwhile to move on from him. The Rays need to create roster spots for Rule 5-eligible players, but they have enough replaceable guys that they will have no issue keeping Franklin. Maybe he will never pan out, but given his talent, it is clearly worthwhile for them to give him at least one more season to prove himself before they part with him for almost nothing.