HOOVER, Ala. — One of the newest members of the Red Sox organization wasn’t wearing Boston colors when he walked into the Hyatt Regency Birmingham–Wynfrey Hotel on Monday afternoon.
“No, no,” Feleipe Franks said.
Franks signed autographs in an orange tie because he remains focused on his unpaid job —the one that didn’t give him a $40,000 bonus last week.
He’s still the Gators’ starting quarterback.
He’s also, shockingly, the second Florida passer drafted by an MLB team since the last one was drafted by an NFL team.
“I do plan on breaking that trend,” Franks said during the first day of SEC media days. “That’s my end goal.”
If he can make it happen, he’ll end an inexplicable streak for a program that’s produced three Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks.
The last UF quarterback drafted by the NFL was Tim Tebow in 2010. Since then, NFL teams have drafted Gators at every other position (including punter and kicker) but long snapper. Four quarterbacks who started at UF before transferring elsewhere have been drafted, too, including Will Grier this spring. And Franks and Jeff Driskel were both drafted (and signed) by the Red Sox.
Franks wasn’t much of a baseball prospect as a junior in high school, when he last pitched in an organized game. He was focused on football.
He hadn’t even picked up a baseball in four or five years before Boston contacted him about a week and a half before the June amateur draft. He was focused on football, then, too.
But he hit 94 mph when he threw off a mound last month. That was enough to get him signed in a low-risk deal for both sides. Franks gets a backup plan in case football doesn’t work out and enough money to fix his dinged-up Buick LaCrosse. The Red Sox get the rights to a hard-throwing right-hander with a 6-foot-6 frame for a 31st-round pick and a bonus that cost less than 1 percent of their MLB-low $6.4 million budget.
“They do need some help in the bullpen, it looks like…” said UF coach Dan Mullen, a New England native and longtime Red Sox fan.
“I’ve seen his accuracy, though, so I don’t know if I’d want to stand in that batter’s box.”
Mullen was joking, but there’s truth in the humor. And that’s why Franks has a long way to go to snap UF’s streak and turn pro in his other sport.
Franks undoubtedly made enormous strides in his first season under Mullen. Only two returning starters nationally had bigger jumps in passing efficiency than Franks. He accounted for 31 touchdowns (24 passing) against only six interceptions, and he became the willing runner Mullen’s offense needs during the season-ending four-game winning streak.
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But the numbers weren’t all great. His passing efficiency (143.34) wasn’t in the top 40 nationally. His completion percentage didn’t crack the top 75.
Then again, the same tools that make him a baseball project also make him an intriguing player for the NFL. The league can’t coach size, athleticism or arm strength. Franks is big, tied for the team lead with seven touchdown runs last year and has the strongest arm for a Mullen quarterback since Cam Newton. It’s easy to see a team talking itself into him.
“We’ll see how he progresses,” Mullen said.
Mullen won’t know how much Franks has progressed this offseason until UF opens camp next week. Did he make the same kind of good-to-great jump Mullen saw in Dak Prescott at Mississippi State? If so, Franks might have a decision to make after the season.
He’ll graduate in December and doesn’t have to return for a fifth season at UF. Franks said the idea of leaving the Gators after this year has crossed his mind.
“I’ve thought about it,” Franks said, “but that’s not my main focus.”
Neither is his newest team.
Franks has too much unfinished business left with his old one.
Contact Matt Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.