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Rays Helium Prospect Alert: Austin Franklin

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Franklin after signing first professional contract
Tampa Bay Rays

Born: 10/2/1997 (19 yo) Bats/Throws: R/R Height/Weight: 6-3/215 Drafted: 2016 Rd 3, 90th Overall, by Rays

Selected in the 3rd round of the 2016 draft, Austin Franklin is a homegrown talent that Rays fans should be aware of and follow in 2017 and beyond.

The Rays handed the Paxton HS grad $597,500 to begin his pro career, the second lowest bonus in that round (lower than most by a fair margin). So far he has more than justified that investment.

His thoughts after signing with the Rays?

Through the first 11 games (9 starts) of his career with the Gulf Coast League Rays, Franklin shut out opponents in 4. He only allowed 3 ER through his last 20 IP, and did so by holding opponents to a .169 average and managing a 0.93 WHIP over that span.

Other accomplishments:

  • Led the GCL Rays with 40 Ks
  • HR allowed: 0
  • Was equally effective vs both LHB (.183 AA) and RHB (.200 AA)
  • Stellar with runner on 1st: 0.93 ERA, 9.2 IP, 4 H, 1 BB, 7 Ks, .143 AA
  • Was even better with runner on 2nd: 6 IP, 1 H, 3 BB, 6 Ks, .053 AA
  • Maintained a 22.7% K rate and 9.1% BB rate
  • His overall average against was a measly .190 and whip 1.06
  • Also came out of the pen a few times and earned his first pro Save

You really couldn’t ask anything more from the big righty. As with any young pitcher, there’s plenty for him to work on, but overall it was a very impressive career start, one that put him on the map as yet another great pitching prospect for the Rays.

So what is it about Franklin that has made him so effective thus far?

His first asset is a great fastball. He can reach the mid-90s with it and he locates it well. He also throws an effective curve ball, which is rated by many as an above-average offering.

He’ll need get the repetitions he needs to become more consistent, to increase his workload, and to develop a second off-speed offering that helps his fastball become more effective. His change-up apparently holds a lot of promise, and it would be a boon to his MLB chances if it plays. He just hasn’t used it much in his first season, which isn't atypical for a new prospect, but we don't have much to observe just yet.

There were some, such as Baseball Prospectus’ Christopher Crawford, who didn’t think his curveball graded as an above-average pitch, but it’s safe to say that his GCL performance post-draft put that opinion to bed. BA’s Ben Badler agrees with that sentiment:

It was enough for the BA staff to rank Franklin the 17th best prospect overall in the GCL and showed up as Minor League Ball’s 20th best Rays prospect. And if you watch him pitch, you’ll see why the projections have been amped up helium style since the draft ended. His delivery is smooth, he doesn’t have any red flags that point towards possible injury, and his curveball looks like it truly is an above-average offering.

Still, at this age, it’s more about the willingness to learn and put the work in, so what does Austin think about the long road he faces? When asked where he saw himself five years after the draft, he responded with this promising statement:

The willingness to sign despite getting less than what others received in the 3rd round, a below slot signing, and the knowledge that the long road ahead will demand everything he has are both attributes that should be extremely encouraging to the Rays and their fans.

Not only does he recognize the long road, but he’s already taken notes from scouts on what they view as the issues he’ll need to work on. More importantly, he’s an extremely hard worker who prides himself on putting in the work to correct such issues, something he’ll rely on to fix issues as they come up.

Unlike other teams who sometimes tend to lean towards the more developed college arms, the Rays always seem willing to dive into the HS pool and nab an arm they recognize has a high ceiling.

But were the Rays higher than most on Franklin at the time of the draft?

The organization and the pitcher are on the same page. It’s going to be a long road, but the talent is there and although the work is just beginning, the fruits of the labour are already beginning to show up in the results.

If you want more details on Franklin I truly recommend you read this great article from MLB.com’s Bill Chastain. It reveals some of the honest confidence that Franklin operates with and provides hope that he’ll reach his full potential.

It’s true that Rays fans continue to be spoiled with pitching talent, but truthfully, get excited about Austin Franklin’s growth. He may have a lot of work to do, but we’ll all enjoy the outcome if it’s as great as I expect it will be.

Here’s a short video of him pitching to finish it all off. Enjoy!