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Is Nick Franklin really this terrible?

The former middle-infield prospect has been struggling

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

On July 31st, 2014 the Rays made a gut-wrenching decision to trade the team's only pitcher to ever win the Cy Young Award to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for Drew Smyly, Willy Adames, and Nick Franklin. It was a tough pill for Rays fans to swallow considering what they had expected for the ace of their staff to yield, but Smyly helped soften the blow as he was one of the best pitchers in all of baseball down the stretch.

This season, Smyly went down with an injury before throwing a pitch during spring training. He would return for three starts, but has again gone down and is questionable to return this season. Adames can be considered the main piece in the deal, but he is only 19, and although he's having a solid year with Charlotte, he's still a few seasons away. This thrusts Franklin into the precarious position of being the sole player acquired in the deal that's currently able to contribute to the team, and thus far, he's been awful.

Up until Wednesday's game, Franklin had committed more errors (4), than base hits (3). So far this year, he's played in 19 games and has slashed .143/.226/.268 with a HR. He made his season debut back on May 17th and he went 2-for-5 with a double, but since that time he has gone 6-for-51 with two of those hits not leaving the infield, while striking out 13 times. The errors could be attributed to him being thrown into position which he had yet to play during his career, so he does deserve a pass on that. However, with a current wRC+ of 43 (and was minus-9 last week, and yes I know, meaningless in a SSS), he seems to be taking up a roster spot that another player could be making better use of.

Franklin is currently 24 years old, and the Rays have him under team control until the 2020 season, so there is still plenty of time for him to pan out. He used to be one of the top prospects in baseball with Seattle, but so far his success in the minor leagues has failed to translate into the majors since his debut in 2013. During that season, Franklin slashed .225/.303/.382 with 12 HR in 102 games, which was good for a 93 wRC+, which put him slightly below league average. However, that's a solid season considering he was just 22 years old at the time.

The next season, however, Franklin's future with the team was in question as the Mariners had signed Robinson Cano to a long-term contract. He failed to make the opening day roster, and was up for a couple of dreadful, week-long periods during the season until he was dealt to Tampa Bay at the end of July. He would be stashed at Durham until mid-September, but his contribution to the team was minuscule. During the 2014 season, he slashed .160/.222/.247 with a HR in 28 games, good for 34 wRC+, making him among the worst in the league of players with more than 80 plate appearances.

Heading into spring training this year, Franklin proclaimed that he would be the Opening Day shortstop. A loud proclamation, considering the signing of former all-star Asdrubal Cabrera, who was eventually awarded the position. Franklin though, was awarded the starting second base job, except he strained his oblique, opening the doors for Tim Beckham and Logan Forsythe to step in.

Once Franklin was finally healthy, he played in eight rehab games for Durham and showed decent enough numbers to join the big league squad on May 16th. Since that time, he has been terrible.

Let's take a look why. Also, by examining his slow start, I'm hoping some sort of cosmic energy will cause his performance to drastically improve. Nick Franklin was born in Sanford, Florida

For starters, he has a .171 BABIP, which puts him last on the team, so that is bound to regress at some point to at least close to league average. He has done a decent job of spraying the ball around the field but is just having trouble finding the empty spaces. A week ago, I looked at Joey Butler's early season success and I used the percentages of how hard he hit the ball to argue whether his production was sustainable. Nick Franklin's medium contact rate is around the same number as Joey Butler, albeit in a SSS. Franklin's soft contact rate is around 26.2% so about a quarter of the time he makes it contact, it is softly hit. During his rookie season, that rate was half that, so that rate should come down while his hard contact rate, which sits at 13.9%, should increase. If that happens, his BABIP would most certainly rise.

His plate discipline has actually been decent this season as well, as he only swings at balls outside the zone 28.7% of the time, making him 4% better than the league average. Only problem is, he is just not making contact, as he only connects 72.2% of the time, while the league average is 79.2%. However, this may not change for Franklin, as he has always hovered in the low-70s for contact percentage. This could be the cause for his struggles as it does fall below league average. So in order for Franklin to succeed, he needs to work on producing more solid contact, because right now he's struggling and even when he does make contact, it's usually softly hit.

There could many reasons as to why Franklin has struggled so far this season. He's having to learn a new position, his oblique could still be bothering him, or it could even be the pressure of the David Price trade. Hopefully this is just a long slump that he'll eventually break out of. Projection systems think he'll do at least somewhat better, as ZiPS has him slashing .227/.299/.350 with a wRC+ of 88, which is still not that good, but at least better than what we've been seeing.

Stats are through Saturday's games