One of the biggest storylines of the 2009 season was Aaron Hill, who by a change in philosophy, hit 36 home runs, almost exclusively to left field. It was a shock for scouts, who had watched as Hill hit six home runs in his first full season in 2006, had hit 20 in 1,015 minor league plate appearances, and never more than nine in any season hitting with aluminum at Louisiana State. Hill is an amazing example of the importance of development, the ability for change, and for the unpredictability of power. So, too, is this 2009 draftee that garnered this pre-draft scouting report from Baseball America.
“Scouts don’t expect him to hit for even average power with wood, but he should have enough strength in his wiry frame to keep pitchers honest. Scouts have made comparisons to players such as Aaron Hill or [Felipe] Lopez offensively, though he has less power.”
Either the Mariners didn’t agree with that, or they didn’t know what they were really getting in Florida prep shortstop Nick Franklin, the 27th overall pick last season. This year, Franklin had a season to rival Hill’s 2009, only as a teenager in the Midwest League. I have written before about how difficult a hitting environment the Midwest League is, particularly for teenagers who are facing a great number of college players. And Franklin’s season stands out historically in that regard. Check out the number of home runs by a teenager in the MWL in the 2000’s:
1. Prince Fielder – 27
2. Wily Mo Pena – 26
3. Nick Franklin – 23
4. Mike Moustakas – 22
5. Carlos Gonzalez – 18
5. Matt Sweeney – 18
7. Brad Nelson – 17
7. Edwin Encarnacion – 17
7. Adrian Gonzalez – 17
10. Six Others Tied at 16
Granted, counting stats can be misleading, but any way you slice it, that’s some good company to be in. Brad Nelson is the only true bust on the list, as even Pena and Encarnacion had their seasons of success. But, I don’t want to limit ourselves to counting stats. In compiling the data above, I found more than 50 teenage player seasons in the 2000’s, seasons from the likes of Miguel Cabrera (.268/.328/.382), Grady Sizemore (.268/.381/.335), Joe Mauer (.302/.393/.392) and Justin Upton (.263/.343/.413). The more I looked, the more it became apparent that Franklin’s season is truly amazing in the millennium context.
When I looked at rate statistics, really only these ten players could compete with the .281/.351/.485 batting line that Franklin put up in a full season of work:
1. Daric Barton, C, .313/.445/.511
2. Jaff Decker, OF, .299/.442/.514
3. Prince Fielder, 1B, .313/.409/.526
4. Shin-Soo Choo, OF, .302/.417/.440
5. Travis Snider, OF, .313/.377/.525
6. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, .312/.382/.486
7. Jay Bruce, OF, .291/.355/.516
8. Carlos Gonzalez, OF, .307/.371/.489
9. Cameron Maybin, OF, .304/.387/457
10. Ruben Gotay, 2B, .285/.377/.456
If we include players that had half-seasons because of injury or promotion, we’d add Chris Snelling, Casey Kotchman, Colby Rasmus, Kyle Blanks and Josh Vitters to the list, probably. This is not an example of park factors at work in Franklin’s favor, as a 2006-2008 look at Clinton’s stadium revealed it to be neutral across the board. Franklin just hit the ground running and never looked back. Also, consider that the switch-hitter hit just .174/.221/.273 with two home runs from the right side, and the team is contemplating whether to give up his switch-hitting experiment.
Still, Franklin has put himself in rare company, and he’s a guy that is likely to stick at shortstop. To put that position adjustment in context, here are the five best seasons of teenage shortstops in the league I could find since 2000:
And it falls off from there. Those seasons above can’t hold a candle to Franklin’s campaign, and in the case of the accomplished Moustakas and Upton, neither was going to stay at shortstop for very long. Aybar’s season was truly impressive, but Franklin’s is the best.
As a final piece of the puzzle, I took the 16 player-seasons I could find that were most similar to Franklin’s (from a rate level), and adjusted them to equal his 574 plate appearances. I think it’s interesting to note that Jay Bruce’s 2006 season, for example, prorates to 51 walks and 122 strikeouts, which bears an awful resemblance to Franklin’s 50 walks and 123 strikeouts. Also really close was Andrew Lambo in 2008, adjusted to 45 walks and 123 strikeouts. While both adjusted to more extra-base hits than Franklin, perhaps we can look to their K/BB development as a sign for what Franklin’s will mature into.
From a power standpoint, the two most similar seasons as Carlos Gonzalez and Mike Moustakas, both who adjust to an identical 52 extra-base hits. Both showed better contact skills than Franklin, but it’s certainly encouraging to see their power development and hope for that for Franklin. A more conservative projection might see the similarities to Hank Conger and Edwin Encarnacion, and maybe adjust accordingly there. Development can just go in so many directions, be it the route of Miguel Cabrera or the route of Eric Duncan.
By any account, we know that Franklin is one odd duck that just completed a season for the ages. The company he’s put himself in, by every measure I used above, is mostly surrounded by Major League players. If he can stick at shortstop and match just three-fourths of the offensive maturity most of the peers above enjoyed, Franklin will go down as quite the coup for this Seattle Mariners Scouting Department.