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Originally published Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 8:00 PM

Mariners prospect Nick Franklin toils to work on his game, not live up to the hype

Nick Franklin, a minor league shortstop, was a first-round draft choice by the Mariners in 2009. He missed seven weeks last season with a fluke injury and illness but is playing now in the Arizona Fall League.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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PEORIA, Ariz. — Nick Franklin hopes to use the weeks ahead to cope with the usual stuff a top prospect faces.

Things like not being too jumpy in the batter's box, or adjusting to a tougher variety of pitches thrown his way — part of every player's journey up the organizational ladder. Not like this past season, when the Mariners' shortstop prospect was sidelined seven weeks simply because he stood too close to a Class AA teammate during batting practice and chose the wrong place to eat breakfast.

"It was just one of those things I couldn't control," said Franklin, 20, one of a handful of Mariners minor-leaguers here for the annual Arizona Fall League, a finishing school of sorts for top prospects.

Franklin now spends time working on things he can control. He doesn't dwell on the concussion suffered in June when a teammate's backswing caught him on the jaw. Or the food-borne illness he picked up after eating at a pancake chain restaurant, which caused him to drop 10 pounds and miss more time toward the end of his concussion recovery.

The last thing Franklin wants to worry about is how those interruptions will affect his "shortstop of the future" label, or timetable for joining the Mariners. His work ethic and even-keeled approach were two things the Mariners liked most about Franklin when they took the switch-hitting high-schooler 27th overall in the 2009 draft.

Franklin is relying on it to get past the first real setback of a two-year professional career.

"Honestly, I don't look at it like I'm coming here because I got hurt," he said. "I'm coming here to be polished. To try to prepare myself for the situations that come next, before they happen. I try to keep everything at an even-keel. Don't get too high, don't get too low on yourself."

Franklin credits his father, Steve, for instilling that mindset. The family had an outdoor batting cage at their home in Longwood, Fla., where Franklin's father pitched to him about 300 nights per year as a youngster. Then, when Franklin played high-school ball, his father kept up the nightly pilgrimage at an indoor hitting facility.

"We always tried to teach him to do the right things with what he could control," his father said. "You can't worry about the other things."

Franklin came from a baseball family. His grandfather, Ed Clifton, was a Pirates minor-leaguer in 1958; his older brother, Clint, was a pitcher for the Florida Gators. His mother, Debbie, was his first T-ball coach; his father played high-school ball before an injury derailed his career.

It was evident early that Franklin was likely better than them all.

"When he was 5, he was playing with 7- and 8-year-olds and playing shortstop and the ball was hit to the other side of second base," his father said. "Not only did he get to it, but he pivoted 360 degrees and made the play. I was just staring in disbelief."

By the time he turned 12, Franklin was teaching himself to switch hit. In high school, he'd seek tips from his brother about how pitchers would try to get him out.

Franklin's parents flew out to stay with him during his concussion recovery, and then his mother remained behind after the food illness. His father said Franklin handled the setbacks well and is determined to move on.

Franklin downplayed the food problem as "just simple food poisoning" and something he'd been through a few times previously. He laughed at the unfortunate timing of it all, but said he's back to where he needs to be physically.

Franklin went 1 for 3 with a bloop RBI single on Tuesday, while walking once and striking out twice, as his Peoria Javelinas lost 4-3 to the Surprise Saguaros. He's hitting .222 with a home run, a double and five RBI in 27 at-bats.

Mariners minor-league hitting coach Alonzo Powell, on staff with the Javelinas, said Franklin was anxious at the plate early but has looked more like his old self the past week. The Mariners are intrigued by Franklin's seeming ability to hit for both average and power while playing shortstop.

Powell said Franklin won't make up for all the lost at-bats during his stint here, but the added playing time should get him sharper for next season. The shortstop position has grown increasingly cluttered in Seattle, with incumbent Brendan Ryan making a splash in 2011 and rookie Kyle Seager also getting playing time there in September.

The Mariners used a second-round draft pick on Clemson University shortstop Brad Miller in June, and Carlos Triunfel is playing the position in Class AAA at age 21.

Franklin says he's having too much fun playing pro ball to worry about depth charts and where he fits.

After a stellar 2010 season, when Franklin hit .281 with 23 homers in the Class A Midwest League — and getting into a AA playoff game that fall — there was talk he'd reach the majors by 2012.

That has likely been pushed back. Although his overall numbers were down slightly in 2011, he did hit .325 with an on-base-plus slugging percentage of .853 in 92 plate appearances at Class AA Jackson.

If he can repeat that in AA early this year, a September call-up by the Mariners would not be out of the question. Not that he's thinking about it.

"All I can do is play the way I know I can," he said. "After that, the rest should hopefully take care of itself."

Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or gbaker@seattletimes.com.

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