ALTAMONTE SPRINGS, FL- Lake Brantley shortstop Nick Franklin comes into this week ranked the #39 high school prospect in the draft, projecting him on talent to go in the first two rounds next June. I not only got to watch him in four at-bats Tuesday night, but in two against Oviedo High righty A.J. Cole, a potential 1st-round pick for 2010.
Lake Brantley is no stranger to top prospects or to top middle infielders, for that matter. Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop Felipe Lopez and Milwaukee Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks (via Southern University) are both Lake Brantley grads and former 1st-round picks. Boston Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek’s high school number is also among those commemorated on the outfield wall.
This switch-hitting Franklin is a live-bodied, athletic kid. He looks the part in a uniform; Though I eyeballed him from the stands at about 5-11, he’s listed at 6-1, 180. Though Franklin has a small frame (by MLB standards), he’s slope-shouldered and wiry strong in his upper and lower halves. I might compare his build to the Texas Rangers’ Mike Young by the time he fills out.
Franklin really shows good actions during infield, with fast twitches. His feet work well enough that he has a chance for average to solid-average (MLB) range at shortstop as long as he gets off-the-bat jumps. His hands are above-average to me and he’s good with the glove-to-hand transfer. Franklin is better going over the middle than he is in the hole, and he turns the double play like a big league shortstop already.
I’d grade his arm-strength out to be solid-average big league (55) right now with the projection of plus (60). Franklin throws on a line and has a short release, which enhances his grade.
During the game, Franklin fielded three groundballs cleanly and finished them with accurate throws. He also turned the pivot on two double plays and recorded another putout on a quick, aggressive tag against a would-be-basestealer.
As I’ve discussed ad nauseum, no shortstop is a sure thing to stay at shortstop. But if I’m the team that drafts Franklin, I’d put him there in the beginning and keep him unless he proves otherwise or Honus Wagner blocks him at the big league level. I do believe he has a chance to become a very solid defender at the most challenging infield position, if given the obligatory 4-5 years of development in the minors. That is what makes Franklin an early-round prospect.
At the plate, Franklin went 1-3 with a triple and a walk, batting lefthanded all four times. His first at-bat was against A.J. Cole. He was visibly late on the first two fastballs (in the 92-94 MPH area), fouling them off to the third base side. On the third fastball, Franklin reacted faster and flew out to center field. I timed him at 4.37 on the turn.
In at-bat #2, he grounded out 6-3 on an A.J. Cole slider. Though he didn’t get a hit, he showed me some ability to wait on a good (major league caliber) breaking pitch. Franklin pulled up after the putout, still running a 4.27 down the line.
With Cole still on the mound, Franklin walked his next at-bat and stole second easily, showing a quick first step. And in his final plate appearance against a reliever, he hit a triple down the right field line. Hustling all the way, Franklin rounded first base at a crisp 4.30.
I got a good look at Franklin’s swings during batting practice, as well. He has a smooth stroke from the left side, with good extension. I would grade out his lefthanded bat-speed as 40 and project it to a solid-average 55 in time. There is a little bit of length to it, which is why he’s late on a plus fastball even with aluminum if he’s not geared up for it, right now. Franklin’s balance is good and his raw power for me is 35/45. Despite the good extension, Franklin didn’t show a lot of loft or line-drive power. His balls tend to have top-spin from that side.
I thought his swing from the right side was a tad slower, which is not unusual in high school switch-hitters because they have so many more repetitions as lefties. He’s not quite as well-balanced, but he’s okay. He might have more power potential as a righty.
Franklin shows me good hand-eye coordination and a sound approach for his age, so I believe he can become a solid-average big league hitter when he physically matures in the coming years. I don’t project him as a power hitter, but a .280-10HR guy who hits doubles and steals some bases is not out of the question (I grade him out as a 60 runner with good instincts).
Franklin has committed to Auburn and if he ends up there, I believe he’s an impact player as a freshman and a likely high draft in 2012.
Oviedo junior righty A.J. Cole was plenty impressive, though he was on the losing end (Lake Brantley 6, Oviedo 3) and was out in the 5th. Cole threw 90-94 MPH with four-seam riding action on his fastball. At 6-4, 170, he’s rail-thin and it’s quite a scene to see that skinny arm whip around. Cole showed the makings of a plus 76-81 MPH slider as well; it was a short downer that can break wood bats. The change is crude because he’s yet to really need one.
Despite his long-limbed, gangly build, Cole is athletic and repeats his delivery. He gets pretty good use out of his legs and core and I don’t see much strain on his elbow or shoulder. His arm-action is loose, releasing at a three-quarter slot. Cole is definitely near the top of the follow list for 2010.
Oviedo has another starting pitcher who is a prospect for the 2009 draft in Malcolm Clapsaddle. But the Georgia-bound righty played third base today and did not pitch.
In closing, I would like also to mention the Lake Brantley closer, whom I think is a sleeper in college, wherever he ends up. 5-10, 180 lefty Jordan Rusk has a differently-shaped body with wide hips and a squarish upper-half. But I really liked the way his arm worked, long and loose, and he snapped off some near-average curveballs with little effort. Throwing mid-80s with a lively delivery, he competed hard. Rusk is one of those lefties who could sneak up. If not this spring, then down the road.
Oddly enough, I don’t think there was a scout (among the ten-plus in attendance) remaining by the time Rusk came in to close the seventh. Franklin had just batted for the last time and there was unlikely to be a bottom of the 7th with Lake Brantley leading 6-3.
It’s easy to find the A.J. Cole’s, but sometimes prospects come in less noticeable packages and in inconvenient times!
Check back later for my blog on another top Florida shortstop, Scooter Gennett from Sarasota HS. Gennett is signed with the University of Florida and also has the potential to go in the first two rounds. I will see him play Wednesday night at home.