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Rays 2017 Season Preview: Nick Franklin, heartbreaker

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The “Could Nick Franklin Be on His Way Out of Tampa Bay in 2017” Edition of our Season Preview

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

As the Rays roster continues to take shape, it is becoming increasingly apparent that Nick Franklin will be headed out of Tampa Bay sometime in 2017. Franklin performed admirably in limited action this past season, but between the team’s recent acquisitions and their near big league ready prospects, there simply isn’t room for his skill set.

And as unlikely as it seems, it may be Tim Beckham’s progression that ultimately renders Franklin expendable to the front office.

Background

The Florida native was a first round selection by the Seattle Mariners in the 2009 draft just two spots behind where LA selected future superstar Mike Trout. Like most high school middle fielders, it took Franklin several years of seasoning in the minor leagues before busting into the Show in 2013 with a .346 wOBA through the first half. Unfortunately, he came crashing down to earth in the latter half of year as the team saw his wOBA crater to .274.

Midway through the following season, Franklin was acquired by the Rays alongside Drew Smyly and Willy Adames in the David Price blockbuster deal; however, the change of scenery did little to help his struggling game. The difficulties would persist during 2015 as Franklin managed only 109 plate appearances in which he struck out nearly 34% of the time while producing a sub 50 wRC+.

As he straddled the line of looking like a career minor leaguer and a slow developing prospect, he finally displayed signs of life for the major league squad last season. The 25 year old played all across the diamond posting .270/.328/.443 slash line and an improved ability to limit strikeouts, so it seemed he still had the potential to be a major league regular.

Glut of Middle Infield Options

Despite his success, Franklin faces a plethora of competition for a utility role heading into 2017, and to be brutally honest, he probably won’t be able to separate himself enough to remain with the team. Forsythe and Duffy are locks for the starting spots in the middle infield, and while Brad Miller will begin the year manning first base, the anticipated arrival of Casey Gillaspie could push Miller and his potent bat into somewhat of a utility role (still with a majority of games at 1B).

Additionally, top prospect Willy Adames and middle infielder Daniel Robertson could find their way ahead of Franklin in the middle infield pecking order prior to the season’s end. It’s not to say that they would step in and immediately outperform Franklin, but they certainly wouldn’t be brought up to spend all of their time riding the pine pony.

You could argue that Tim Beckham, a colossal disappointment in the eyes of many Rays’ fans, is a more likely candidate to go given he specializes as a middle infielder like Franklin; however, Beckham’s emergence last season makes him a more useful piece for the current roster.

First of all, Tampa Bay’s 25 man roster is expected to feature a number of players who sorely need a platoon partner against southpaws, and Beckham is more suited for that role than Franklin. Take a look at their career numbers against left handed pitchers:

Both players strikeout far too much, but it’s obvious that Franklin has no business batting against southpaws even if it’s not the largest sample size; you hope he’d show some improvement as he continues to face big league pitching, but he actually took a step backward last season with a mere 50 wRC+ against lefties. Meanwhile, Tim Beckham has posted a more respectable line that saw him produce 5% more runs than the average player over the course of roughly the same plate appearances as Franklin.

Earlier today, Bradley Neveau profiled Tim Beckham for the upcoming season noting that he has actually hit righties harder than lefties in terms of exit velocity accompanied by a stronger minor league career against righties, so Beckham could potentially normalize into a more complete hitter than Nick Franklin rendering Beckham a stronger option for full time duty should an injury or poor performance by a starter press one of them into a larger role.

In addition to those observations, Neveu astutely points out that Beckham took a step forward defensively in 2016 despite having to log innings at every infield position. Clearly, the small sample should be taken with a grain of salt, but nonetheless Beckham has looked remarkably better than Franklin in the field at virtually every infield position, which doesn’t offer much hope for Franklin as the primary utility player.

Destination Outfield

Perhaps, Franklin’s strong performance against right handers could bring him some playing time at DH and maybe a corner outfield spot, but the additions of Rasmus and Ramos will complicate that plan as the season progresses.

Although the latter is not slated to return when the season begins, his eventual return to regular catching duty won’t be right away, so it’s likely Franklin will lose at bats to Ramos at DH even on days when Dickerson plays the field or sits.

Furthermore, Rasmus’s superior defensive play suggests a heavy rotation of Rasmus, Dickerson, and Souza in the corner outfield spots, so barring an injury, I wouldn’t anticipate too many at bats opening up there; especially if Jason Coats or Mallex Smith find their way onto the roster.

On top of all that, it also remains to be seen if Erik Neander & company are looking to sign one of the right handed bats remaining on the market. If they were to add anyone at all regardless of offensive position, it’s highly likely it comes at the expense of Franklin’s playing time.

Potential Logan Forsythe Deal

There’s a small chance the Dodgers could make an offer the Rays couldn’t refuse for Logan Forsythe, so it’s indeed possible for a scenario where Nick Franklin is the starting second baseman; yet, what is far more likely is that Forsythe, should he be dealt, would not be traded until after this season when his salary jumps to $9 million.

At that point, Willy Adames would undoubtedly be primed for a run in the Rays starting lineup at one of the middle infield positions. And even if Adames struggles to make the jump like many other prospects do (highly touted or not), there are still other options that will be presenting themselves.

Again, Brad Miller could slide over to 2B to make room for Gillaspie/Bauers or even another prospect like Daniel Roberston could be worth a look. It’d be different if Franklin was a whiz with the glove at 2B, but with a career -11.8 UZR/150 at the two bag, it’s hard to be optimistic about a regular role on a typically defensively minded team.

2017 Outlook

There’s no denying that Franklin’s breakout last season was a boon for the team; however, with team control through 2020, it was likely more of a boon for his trade stock than the team’s lineup.

If the Rays had nabbed a couple of guys who hit better against southpaws, it’d be a different story, but the present construction of the roster doesn’t bode well for Franklin’s playing time once Ramos returns or the next wave of prospects are up.

When that happens, I’d fully expect Franklin to find his way out of Tampa Bay while his prospect pedigree and last season’s performance still have a little bit of gleam to them. Tim Beckham is simply more of a known commodity for the role that’s open on the 2017 roster.