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Tampa Bay Rays: Nick Franklin, Andrew Bellatti Have Something To Prove

By Robbie Knopf
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At the end of the day, the Tampa Bay Rays decided that even in a year where their playoff hopes are fading, 15 pitchers and 16 positions players were not enough. The question has changed for the Rays in September–instead of asking themselves whether each potential roster addition would make their team better, they also need to worry about whether the improvement is worth paying his salary and letting him accumulate service time given that they need more than subtle upticks to get back in the Wild Card race. For a small-market, money-strapped team like the Rays, that sure made it sound like no other players would be coming up.

Instead, the Rays did call up two players: infielder Nick Franklin and right-hander Andrew Bellatti. Franklin gives the Rays a third shortstop, allowing them to pinch-hit for Tim Beckham if they so choose even if Asdrubal Cabrera is DHing or already out of the game. Bellatti, meanwhile, provides them with another relief arm and particularly one that has recorded some big outs for them. At the end of the day, though, calling up Franklin and Bellatti isn’t as much about how they will improve the 2015 Rays, but how the September experience can help them get back on track.

We know how badly Nick Franklin was earlier this season–he hit to just a .139/.205/.250 line in 78 plate appearances. He was arguably the most disappointing player on the Rays this year, going from their potential starting second baseman to getting injured, playing poorly when he returned, and spending the rest of the Triple-A season with the Durham Bulls. The only player who may have been worse is the pitcher whose season followed a similar trajectory, Matt Moore.

But then, like Moore, Franklin went down to Triple-A and did everything he could to rebound. In 195 plate appearances after his demotion, Franklin hit to a .259/.344/.500 line with 9 doubles, 10 homers, 26 RBI, and a 42-23 strikeout to walk ratio in 195 plate appearances. To put those numbers in context, only one Durham player with as many plate appearances delivered a better OPS than he did in that span (.844): Richie Shaffer. That was it. Franklin stepped into the Durham lineup and played a touch better than Taylor Motter did in his breakout year.

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Those are great numbers in a bigger sample than the disastrous ones, but we have to remember that Franklin also hit poorly (.469 OPS) in his 90 big league PA’s in 2014. He still has work to do to prove that he is more than a Quad-A player. On the other hand, the pattern is off for one key reason–Franklin also struggled (.638 OPS) in 313 plate appearances at the Triple-A level between the Tacoma Rainiers and the Bulls in 2014 after the Mariners demoted him back to the minors in June of that year. Franklin has been off for a while at every level, and his Triple-A performance this season represents his best offensive output since early 2014 in the minors and his solid 412 plate appearances in the majors in 2013. Now he needs to prove that the numbers mean something.

The rest of September will represent another small sample size for Nick Franklin, but it would be nice to see him put up reasonably good numbers and enter the offseason with momentum. He has the ability to make the Rays’ 25-man roster in some capacity next spring, and all he needs to do is keep up his Triple-A progress and show that he is back to being the player that he was not that long ago. If he does, he could really help this team.

We have to remember that Franklin is only 24 and was a top prospect until the moment he exhausted his rookie eligibility in 2013. It is worth reminding ourselves that Franklin has 15- to 20-homer potential on a team that doesn’t have enough such players. Franklin missed his chance to become the Tampa Bay Rays’ starting second baseman and doesn’t the defensive chops to be more than a stopgap at shortstop, but as he continues on his Ben Zobrist-esque career path, his opportunity to help this team as a super-utility player is on the horizon.

Can it still be called a breakout year if your final numbers don’t reveal that it ever existed? Andrew Bellatti’s year wound up being essentially the opposite of Franklin’s–he came out of nowhere at the beginning of the year, played extremely well in limited big league time, but then failed to perform at Triple-A. No one can take away his 12 innings of 1.50 ERA ball for the Tampa Bay Rays, and his arsenal remains impressive. He throws in the mid-90’s with his fastball to go along with two swing-and-miss secondary pitches in his slider and changeup. However, he collapsed entirely with the Durham Bulls.

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Bellatti finished with just a 5.44 ERA in 46.1 innings in Durham, including just an 8.10 ERA in his last 13 appearances and 20 innings after he was sent down to Triple-A for the final time this season. His command faltered entirely as he slipped even further to a 9.95 ERA, a 10-7 strikeout to walk ratio, and an unbelievably bad 5 home runs allowed (3.6 HR/9) in his final 12.2 innings. Something became unglued in his delivery as he went from being the minor league pitcher that Rays fans most wanted in the big league bullpen to one that even the Bulls couldn’t rely upon.

However, Bellatti’s poor finish doesn’t wipe away the fact that he showed the Tampa Bay Rays enough in spring training to start games for the first time since his stint at Low-A in 2012 and for the first time with any sort of regularity since Short Season ball in 2011. He showcased just how good he can be–his upside has jumped exponentially, from nondescript middle reliever to a pitcher who could record big outs–and now it is just a matter of getting him back to being that pitcher again.

Bellatti may end up in Winter Ball, but first he has a few weeks to work with Jim Hickey and try to get back in sync. He will likely make a few appearances for the Rays in blowouts no matter what happens, but if Hickey can work his magic again, he could add to his strong sample of big league work and enter next season with a legitimate chance to make the Rays’ bullpen. This call-up is a nice way to boost Bellatti’s confidence, but the Rays are well aware of the fact that helping him fix his recent issues would amplify that effect significantly.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays MiLB Recap: Taylor Motter Finishes With 2-HR Game

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