With the 10-year, $240 million mega deal to lure Robinson Cano from New York, the Seattle Mariners signaled to the rest of the league that they're ready to let the Nintendo bucks flow in hopes of contending in 2014. The game plan from the past few seasons -- wait for top hitting talents Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero, Nick Franklin et al to complement King Felix -- has been abandoned. Quixotic or not, the M's are gunning for the A's and Rangers right now.
Franklin, in particular, is reportedly drawing serious interest as a trade chip to bolster Seattle's 2014 prospects. It's no secret why: he's a 22-year-old switch-hitter with considerably more offensive upside than your typical middle infielder. Franklin posted a collective .819 OPS in the minor leagues, ranking as a top-75 prospect according to both Baseball America and MLB.com. He certainly didn't embarrass himself as a rookie in 2013, with a park-and-league-adjusted OPS that was four percent below the MLB average (96 OPS+). Brian Cartwright's OLIVER projection system expects Franklin to settle in as a three win player in his early-to-mid-twenties, when he'll make just a fraction of his free agent worth. Dirt-cheap, up-the-middle players with potent bats are valuable commodities.
While Franklin has a high ceiling, he'll need to start squaring up breaking pitches to reach it. Take a look at his contact rate versus curveballs and sliders by pitch location last year, compared to the MLB average. Unless pitchers mistakenly tossed Franklin a belt-high breaking ball, he came up empty:
Franklin's contact rate versus curveballs and sliders, 2013
MLB average contact rate versus curveballs and sliders, 2013
Franklin whiffed 43.7 percent of the time that he swung at a curveball or slider, far higher than the 29.7 percent MLB average. In fact, the only players who generated comparable wind power versus breaking stuff were sluggers Adam Dunn (43.7 percent), Giancarlo Stanton (44.5 percent), Chris Carter (47.8 percent), Dan Uggla (48.5 percent) and Pedro Alvarez (48.7 percent). Vexed by curves and sliders, Franklin punched out in 27.4 percent of his plate appearances.
There's plenty to like about Franklin -- pro experience at both second base and shorstop, a pretty good eye (he walked 10.2 percent of the time a rookie), surprising pop, and five years of team control remaining before he can hit free agent paydirt. But while Franklin has pop, it's obviously not Pedro Alvarez pop. He must start connecting on breaking stuff and raise his average out of the .220s to truly be a threat at the plate, be it in Seattle or elsewhere.