NORTH PORT, Fla. -- As Jesse Franklin was belting 24 homers at High-A Rome last year, he was steadily distancing himself from the frustration he had felt while dealing with a torn labrum, a fractured collarbone and the cancellation of what would have been his junior season (2020) at the University of Michigan.
“Well, I’ve had a lot of experiences since I left Michigan,” Franklin said. “It’s been a lot of up and down experiences like baseball often is. It’s just the process. I’m going to try to keep getting better and continue to learn from other players and coaches.”
Franklin has continued to show his athleticism and raw left-handed power since Braves Minor League Spring Training began on Sunday. The 23-year-old outfielder ranks No. 17 on MLB Pipeline’s list of the Braves' Top 30 prospects. But given how little Franklin has played over the past two years, it’s hard to accurately project where he is headed.
“He’s got big power,” Braves hitting instructor Greg Walker said. “We’re still working on some things with his shoulders. There’s still work to be done. But he’s got big power.”
To get a better feel for Franklin’s future, it’s important to account for his many recent challenges. His senior year at Seattle (Wash.) Preparatory School was marred by a torn left labrum, which had to be surgically prepared before he went to college.
Fortunately, University of Michigan’s baseball coach Erik Bakich showed him patience and loyalty. He waited as Franklin struggled through the early weeks of his freshman year, and he continued to be understanding after the young outfielder broke his collarbone while skiing during the holiday break his junior season.
“I love skiing, but I won’t be skiing any more,” said Franklin, who was injured while navigating a slope he had traveled countless times near his family’s cabin in Washington state.
Any hope of returning for at least the latter portion of his junior season was erased when COVID-19 shut down the sports world in March 2020. His resume for that year’s MLB Draft was limited to two seasons and MLB Pipeline had him ranked as the No. 142 prospect available.
So returning to Ann Arbor to play his senior season in 2021 wasn’t out of the question. But the Braves had seen enough power potential from Franklin to take him in the third round of the 2020 Draft.
“His Cape [Cod] numbers were really good and we said, 'This guy really has some power,'” Braves vice president of scouting Dana Brown said. “We had him on our list within the first three rounds coming into the Draft. Then he got hurt. But with the medical [issue], we felt good about him coming back without any problems. We just knew he was a guy who could generate a lot of left-handed power.”
Power and perseverance have been two of Franklin’s top tools.
Though he was briefly benched during his 2018 freshman season, Franklin still managed to hit .327 and lead the team in both home runs (10) and slugging percentage (.588). He hit .302 with an .813 OPS in the Cape Cod Baseball League that summer and then helped Michigan advance to the 2019 College World Series.
After homering once every 16.5 at-bats in 2018, Franklin slugged .477 and tallied 13 homers in 260 at-bats (20.0 AB/HR) during his sophomore season. He was named to the College World Series all-tournament team after helping Michigan reach the finals against Vanderbilt.
“That was the best thing ever,” Franklin said. “We just got hot and didn’t have much pressure because we weren’t supposed to be there.”
Speaking of pressure, Franklin had to guard against placing too much on himself as he hit just .200 with a .481 OPS (79 plate appearances) through his first month in Rome last year. It was his first month in professional ball, and the only experience he’d gained since the end of 2019 came via the time he spent working at the Braves’ alternate training site in 2020.
Thanks to patience and a tip from teammate Cody Milligan, who told him to stand up taller at the plate, Franklin soared over the remainder of the season. He tallied 24 homers and produced a .936 OPS over his final 82 games.
As Franklin homered once every 11.9 at-bats during last season’s final 3 1/2 months, it was easier to understand why some scouts likened him to a young Joc Pederson.
With this in mind, it seems appropriate to wonder: Will Franklin be wearing pearls when he gets to Atlanta?
“I’m not cool enough for that,” Franklin said with a smile.