Nick Franklin confident he'll be Rays' starting shortstop

Rays infielder Nick Franklin practices in Port Charlotte, fully confident he is ready to start.
Rays infielder Nick Franklin practices in Port Charlotte, fully confident he is ready to start.
Published March 3, 2015

PORT CHARLOTTE — If the biggest question in unscrambling the Rays' muddled middle infield situation is indeed whether Nick Franklin can play shortstop, there may be an easy answer.

"Absolutely," Franklin said. "Absolutely. One hundred percent. I've grown up playing shortstop. Even at the big-league level, playing short just seems natural to me. I enjoy it. I'm really comfortable there. … It's been in my blood for a long time."

As the Rays sort through myriad combinations with multiple players over the next month to replace the traded Yunel Escobar and Ben Zobrist, it would seem their most productive pairing would be to put Asdrubal Cabrera, the veteran free agent addition, at second and Franklin at short.

That would get their two best bats, at least against right-handers, in the lineup with less ground to cover for Cabrera, the 29-year-old former All-Star shortstop whose range has diminished, and more for Franklin, the 24-year-old acquired from Seattle in the three-way David Price deal. They could do it the other way, or go without Franklin's potential power and give a share of the playing time to Tim Beckham (at short) or Logan Forsythe (at second).

Though most of Franklin's big-league opportunity with the Mariners and Rays has been at second base, he is rather, um, confident he has the ability to handle the everyday shortstop job.

"I wouldn't say I need any work," Franklin said. "Honestly, I think over these past years I've improved a significant amount at shortstop. … I've been practicing all offseason at short. And there's really no weakness."

What concerns there may have been, Franklin felt like he addressed.

He spent part of the winter working with a track coach to increase his range, focusing specifically on his first and second step. "I've been making pretty good gains on that, starting from the bottom of my running form to starts, sideways, you name it," Franklin said.

And he spent another part focused on the finer parts of the game under the tutelage of Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, a fellow Orlando-area resident made available through mutual friend Dee Gordon of the Marlins.

"There's more than quite a few things we worked on," Franklin said. "I worked with him last year, too. He's a great guy to talk to. And he's obviously a Hall of Famer, so it doesn't get much better than that."

Franklin was a shortstop at Lake Brantley High and, as a 2009 first-round draft pick, through most of his minor-league career with Seattle, relishing the responsibility of the role.

"I like taking leadership on the field," he said. "Shortstop is a very, very big asset to the team. … I like the responsibility. I think it dials me in a little more. At second you only have so much to do. There's obviously a 20-foot throw to first, and that's about it."

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But with slick-fielding Brendan Ryan entrenched at shortstop, Franklin was switched to second when the Mariners summoned him in late May 2013 to get his bat in their lineup.

The December 2013 signing of All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano ended that experiment, and Franklin spent most of last season, before and after the trade, at Triple A, splitting time between second and short.

With only a brief September look to go by — six starts at second, three at short — Rays bench/infield coach Tom Foley said Franklin appears to have focused on the right issues, mentioning arm strength, range and consistency as the primary points of evaluation.

"What's important for any shortstop is the consistency and the ability to make the routine plays," baseball operations president Matt Silverman said. "With that as a foundation, everything else is a bonus."

The Rays plan to take almost the whole spring to decide who fits best where, but Franklin said he knows how it works out.

"I'm going to be out there at short," he said. "There's not a doubt in my mind that I'm not."

Contact Marc Topkin at Follow @TBTimes_Rays.