Rays' hopes justifiably high for tireless Franklin

Rays' hopes justifiably high for tireless Franklin

ST. PETERSBURG -- Landing a big fish in a small pond can be a risky proposition for any team. Austin Franklin, a right-hander who hails from a small school in the Florida panhandle, proved to be too enticing for the Rays to pass up.

Franklin became the Rays' third-round selection (90th overall) on Friday, the second day of the 2016 Draft. And he has already agreed to sign with the organization.

"They came in the third round and made a very strong offer; I couldn't be happier to be a Tampa Bay Ray right now," said Franklin in a phone interview. "I have not signed. I will be signing. I have elected to sign. They're going to call this afternoon to give me a full schedule of what will need to be done [to finalize the deal]."

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Franklin, 18, played at 1-A Paxton (Fla.) High School. He stands 6-foot-3, 215 pounds and features a fastball that has been clocked as high as 95 mph. His repertoire includes a heavy sinker and a quality curveball that has late bite. In addition, he has demonstrated a feel for his changeup but does not use the pitch much.

"Austin Franklin has a good body, has a clean arm action and delivery," Rays scouting director Rob Metzler said. "He has a good fastball and can spin a breaking ball. Those are all things that are good ingredients to put in the system. It's a long journey from there to the big leagues. We think he has a really good chance to make that journey."

Pitching at the 1-A level pretty much insured Franklin would dominate the competition.

"He's been able to -- at our level -- compete by just throwing the ball by guys," Paxton baseball coach Nate Moore said.

Troubles have come for Franklin when his delivery has gone out of whack. Refining those hiccups and adjusting to the step up in competition are obviously the risks assumed by the Rays. Franklin believes his delivery issues can be fixed.

"All of the scouts have told me that the flaws I have in my delivery are in the lower half and they're easily correctable, especially with the front hip flying open," Franklin said. "It's definitely something I've tried to work on. When I have more time and better instruction, that will be targeted better than it has been in the past.

"If I can get that harnessed, it's just going to help everything feed off of what I already have. In my mind, and according to multiple scouts and Major League organizations, I have raw tools -- a live fastball, a plus breaking ball -- but they have to play in the strike zone. I think once my delivery gets in line toward home plate, and it's consistently working toward a consistent target, those raw tools will become things that will play at a high level."

Any risks the Rays are taking by drafting Franklin can appear minimal on any given day when he is in a groove.

"When he's going good, there's nobody stopping him," Moore said. "His curveball is very sharp. When he's throwing it for a strike, he's pretty much unhittable. There are not many guys who can hit him.

"He's been able to get away with some mistakes, which is something that he's going to have to clean up, and he knows that. He does a really good job of competing."

Moore is sold on Franklin and his chances to succeed with the Rays.

"I think that once he learns to pitch, and truly pitch, he's going to be a lot better off. [He just needs to] fine-tune his fastball command," Moore said. "His breaking ball is dynamic, and he's going to develop his changeup even more, too."

Franklin's raw talent aside, his intangibles are off the charts.

"He's a great kid," Moore said. "He is a 4.0 student and probably the hardest-working individual that's ever come through Paxton. We're just a small 1-A school; he's been a blessing to have on our team. We've been blessed to have him the last two years.

"He's not one of those kids where you have worry about if he's getting his work in. He's at the gym when nobody else is. He's always putting in the extra effort."

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.