Tacoma Middle Infield Preview: The Nick Franklin Question

This is probably the toughest of the Tacoma positional previews as spring training gets underway: today we look at the Tacoma middle infield situation.

The big hang-up here is Nick Franklin. What are the Mariners going to do with him?

Don’t ask me. I have no idea.

Franklin finished the 2013 season as the Mariners second baseman. He opens 2014 stuck behind Robinson Cano.

Franklin has already proven that he doesn’t need more Triple-A time. Yes, he struck out a lot in his first major league season, but that is something he needs to work on at the MLB level, not in Triple-A. You don’t face major league pitching in the PCL.

Remember when Franklin came up from Double-A and finished the 2012 season with the Rainiers, and he looked over-matched and lost at the plate? Then he came back the next season and dominated Triple-A from day one, forcing his way to the majors with pure performance. Having seen that happen at this level, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a big jump in Franklin’s major league production in year two.

The problem is that he doesn’t have a job. The Mariners have said that they want him to come to spring training and challenge Brad Miller for the starting shortstop job. That’s going to be a tough competition for Franklin to win.

OK, you might be thinking, what if they work out some sort of job-share with Miller and Franklin at shortstop and occasional fill-in at second and third?

Cano and third baseman Kyle Seager very rarely miss games. More importantly, the Mariners signed Willie Bloomquist to a two-year contract to be the utility infielder. That’s Willie’s job.

There has been talk ever since the Cano signing that the Mariners might trade Franklin. But as ESPN’s Buster Olney suggested in a recent column, the best option for the Mariners might be to send Franklin to Tacoma and let him rake in the PCL, hopefully boosting his trade value (while also being on-call if there are any injuries or if Miller struggles).

From the Mariners perspective, this is one of those good problems (“we have so much infield depth that we have a major league player in Triple-A!”). One thing that the organization must do is communicate well with the player being sent down – whoever it is – so that he understands the situation and doesn’t fall into a psychological hole.

Back to the Rainiers, then: barring a spring training injury or a trade, Franklin or possibly Miller will find himself in Tacoma. And that creates a bit of a logjam.

Rainiers Middle Infield Candidates

Nick Franklin or Brad Miller – both can play on either side of second base.

Carlos Triunfel – yup, he’s still here. The 2014 season will likely be Carlos’s fourth season (third full campaign) in a Rainiers uniform. It’s also his final option year – he’ll have to stick in the big leagues in 2015, or be exposed to waivers. Triunfel improved slightly in 2013. Can he take a big step forward in his age 24 season?

Ty Kelly – last year’s mid-season trade acquisition brought a new element to the Mariners farm system: strike zone discipline. Kelly walked 102 times last year, and he even tied a PCL record when he walked five times in one game. He also hit .320. Kelly won’t play shortstop, but he can play second base and also slide over to third.

Chris Taylor – the Mariners Minor League Player of the Year in 2013 hit .293 for Double-A Jackson after a mid-season promotion. Normally we would ink him into the Tacoma opening day lineup, but the Franklin situation clouds the picture. We’ll see him eventually, but maybe not in April. Taylor plays shortstop and second base.

Gabriel Noriega – the 23-year-old Venezuelan has been with Jackson for the last year-and-a-half. He’s known for his glove at shortstop, which is reportedly outstanding. The fact that he starts at shortstop for his Venezuelan Winter League team backs up those reports – he has a lot of serious competition down there. Noriega is not yet much of a threat offensively, but I’ve been told he’s getting better.

Leury Bonilla – he’s always a candidate to break camp with the Rainiers as the super-utility guy. Bonilla has been shuffling between Double-A and Triple-A for the past few seasons. He’s well-liked by the organization, which sees him as a positive figure in the clubhouse. Bonilla can play any position. Literally. All nine of them.

I figure there is room for three of these middle infielders on the Rainiers roster. How this sorts itself out over the next seven weeks will be fascinating.

Links:

  • Bob Dutton has a dispatch from Arizona which covers a number of Mariners issues.
  • Lots of online reports out there that the Mariners are adding veteran pitchers Randy Wolf and Zach Miner to the list of spring training invitees. The team continues to try to find pitching depth – always a good idea. One correction on the story: Miner is a right-hander.
  • Word out of Arizona today is that Mariners No. 2 starter Hisashi Iwakuma is out 4-6 weeks with a strained ligament in a finger on his pitching hand. He’s not even picking up a ball for the next three weeks. That means he won’t be ready for opening day, so another starting rotation opportunity is available.
  • Likely Rainiers designated hitter Jesus Montero arrived at spring training and apologized for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. Reportedly he is out of shape.
  • Colin O’Keefe of Lookout Landing broke down the Mariners spring training positional competitions.
  • The Mariners hired former catcher and broadcaster Dave Valle to manage the Everett AquaSox. Here’s a look at the AquaSox 30th anniversary logo.
  • Ken Griffey Jr. is in Cuba on a “baseball mission.”
  • A very happy former Rainier Michael Pineda showed up at Yankees spring training healthy and in shape.

Next blog post will be Friday. We’ll have a whole bunch of spring training news links, I’m sure.

One Response to Tacoma Middle Infield Preview: The Nick Franklin Question

  1. Mac says:

    Are you doing pitchers last?

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