Infield prospect Nick Franklin is being greeted at Arizona Fall League games by a legion of loyal, vociferous fans cheering his every move.
They have lots to cheer.
The outpouring of affection must be comforting to a player like Franklin as he tries to hone his skills in the beautiful weather of the Arizona desert.
From what I have seen of Franklin this fall, he is going to become an important member of the Mariners' roster -- maybe as soon as this coming season.
With experience as a professional at both shortstop and second base, Franklin -- ranked third among Seattle's Top 20 prospects, as ranked by MLB.com -- is playing almost exclusively at second in the AFL.
Franklin had a very successful high school career at Lake Brantley High School in Altamonte, Fla., the same school that gave us such players as Jason Varitek, Felipe Lopez, and Jemile and Rickie Weeks.
Franklin was good enough to commit to playing for Auburn University, but a career as a professional provided an alternative life path. Rather than enroll at Auburn, Franklin signed a contract with the Mariners. He was chosen late in the first round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, with the 27th selection, but he was the Mariners' second selection that year.
With the second overall pick in 2009, Seattle chose collegiate outfielder Dustin Ackley. Since being selected, Ackley has moved from the outfield to second base. Ironically, Franklin is being developed for that position as well. He and Ackley could both see playing time at the same position in coming seasons.
Now 21, the switch-hitting Franklin appears to be a much more confident player than I saw last season in Spring Training and in the 2011 AFL.
He looks very athletic. He seems very optimistic. And he looks very healthy.
In 2011, Franklin sustained a concussion after being hit in the head with a teammate's backswing. He also came down with food poisoning at one point, resulting in a substantial weight loss. But that's all behind him. He is moving forward with energy and focus, and I like what I've seen. Very much.
Franklin is a middle infielder with a great deal of power in his bat.
A line-drive hitter with an appropriate amount of uppercut, Franklin is especially successful from the left side of the plate. He can hit the gaps or drive the ball over the right-field wall with strong wrists and very good bat speed. He is most successful against fastball pitchers.
At 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, Franklin has surprising strength. With strength in both his upper body and his trunk, Franklin looks like a player who has dedicated time and energy to conditioning.
His quick bat and strong wrists and forearms help generate the power and distance of his offense. It is rare to see him hit a simple grounder to the second baseman. It is much more common to see him drive the ball to the gap or loft the ball to an outfielder, or beyond that and over the wall.
Franklin's swing is rather short. He gets his bat in position quickly to meet a pitch with the barrel of the bat. His improved contact rate this fall is one difference I have noticed. He may still strike out (11 times in 58 at-bats this fall), but I don't see wild, long, unmeasured cuts.
I have seen improvement in Franklin's pitch recognition and plate discipline. His patience and selectivity at the plate have resulted in nine walks so far in Arizona. That's extremely important.
So far in Arizona, Franklin is hitting .345 with two home runs and 19 RBIs. His on-base percentage is .433. In one recent game, Franklin had two doubles and two singles, and he drove in six runs. Those six RBIs were the most in any one game this season.
Franklin spent this past season playing at two levels of the Seattle organization. He played in 57 games Double-A Jackson in the Southern League, where he hit .322 with four home runs, 26 RBIs and nine stolen bases.
At Triple-A Tacoma, Franklin had a more difficult time, hitting .243 with seven homers and 29 RBIs over 296 plate appearances in 64 games.
I think Franklin's power will increase. He projects as a player who will ultimately become a dangerous hitter, with the ability to change a game with a loud and competent bat. I believe power will be a major tool for Franklin.
Another projectable tool will be his speed and his ability to steal bases. He has a very good first step, as well as good baseball and baserunning instincts.
More important, I have also seen a positive change this fall in his defense.
Playing second base seems to agree with his skill set. He has adequate but not stellar range, plus acceptable but not overpowering arm strength. I believe that both his range and his arm play better at the less-demanding second base. I have seen him use very good footwork when turning the double play.
There is a reason fans are cheering for him.
He is delivering big hits. He is playing with dedicated emotion. He has pop in his bat. He looks healthy.
I believe Franklin will provide an outstanding middle-infield option, allowing the Mariners to mix and match with other players. He will provide quality play at shortstop or second base, and he will offer a bat that will be heard.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter.