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EXPLORERS | NICK FRANKLIN

Former major leaguer Nick Franklin hopes to help boost X's playoff push

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SIOUX CITY — It didn't take long for Nick Franklin to make an impact in the Sioux City Explorers lineup.

Franklin, a 2009 first-round MLB draft pick by the Seattle Mariners, was acquired by the X’s on Saturday in a trade with Kansas City, as the Monarchs sent Franklin north to Sioux City in exchange for the rights to pitcher Nick Belzer and future considerations. 

Franklin got his first bit of action as an Explorer on Sunday in the team’s home finale doubleheader against Sioux Falls, and hit a double in the first game off the top of the left field wall, just inches from becoming his first American Association home run.

In the first game, Franklin went 1-for-2 with a double, a walk, and an RBI in the X's 4-3 win, and then stroked two hits, including another double, in the nightcap as Sioux City beat the Canaries by a 3-0 score. 

Franklin is a welcome offensive addition for the X’s, who have battled injuries throughout the season, and rank ninth in the 12-team American Association in batting average, and 11th in total hits.

His acquisition also comes at a crucial time, as the Explorers fight for the final playoff spot in the AA South Division. Sioux City is currently a half-game back of third-place Lincoln for a spot in the league's Sept. 8 wild-card play-in game, with just eight games remaining in the regular season.

“Really, it’s just about winning for me,” Franklin said after the X’s completed their Sunday sweep of the Canaries. “I know it’s going to be a late stretch, so I’m just trying to do everything I can possibly to win, and hopefully make the playoffs.”

Franklin played four years in the Mariners minor league system after the club picked him 27th overall in the 2009 MLB draft, just two picks behind current Los Angeles Angels superstar Mike Trout. 

He made his MLB debut in 2013, and spent parts of two seasons with Seattle before being traded to the Tampa Bay Rays in 2014, as part of the deal that sent former American League Cy Young Award winner David Price from the Rays to the Detroit Tigers.

Franklin then spent three seasons in Tampa Bay, and played the 2017 and 2018 seasons with the LA Angels and Milwaukee Brewers organizations.

His most recent MLB appearance was a one-game stint with the Brewers in 2018. 

In all, he has spent parts of six seasons in the Major Leagues, amassing 178 hits, 24 home runs, and a .214 career batting average. 

Franklin did not play baseball in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and signed with the Monarchs prior to the 2021 season, but after suffering what he described as a “freak accident,”  along with a calf injury later in the summer, Franklin spent all but four games on the Injured List. 

When he did play, Franklin hit well, putting up a .357 batting average in 16 plate appearances, with five hits and a pair of walks.

Once Franklin was healthy, Explorers manager Steve Montgomery reached out to the Monarchs, and ended up acquiring him for next to nothing.

Montgomery was thrilled to get a player with MLB experience, and is confident that Franklin’s knowledge and skills will be beneficial to the young X’s lineup.

“It’s important, just because of his routine and how he goes about his business,” Montgomery said. “We're young offensively, and hopefully they can pick up whatever it is. You see the approach. He’s not getting fooled much, and hopefully he can rub off on a couple of players.”

“It’s valuable because it's a guy with big-league experience, and these guys are all aspiring to get there, and he’s been there, done that. Hopefully he can help some of our younger hitters.”

In his last full season, in 2019, Franklin hit a combined .228 across three levels of minor league ball in the Pittsburgh Pirates and Angels systems, with 63 hits, six homers, and 36 RBI. 

Franklin didn't have much time to get to know the X's home crowd after the trade this past weekend, as his Explorers debut came in the team’s final two home games of the regular season. But he hopes that he can be a major contributor for his new squad as they try to earn that wild-card spot.

Should that happen, he might finally get a bit of time to introduce himself to the fans at Lewis and Clark Park.

"I love it," Franklin said. "I love the competition, I love the playoff push. I'm going to put my body on the line to do the things I need to do, just to make sure we win at the end of the day."

Franklin is a long way from the bright lights and glamour of the major leagues, but he isn’t ready to give up his baseball career quite yet.

No matter where it happens, back in the majors or in the independent leagues, he just wants to play ball.

“It’s great,” Franklin said of his time in the American Association. “It goes back to, I love the game of baseball so much that I just want to continue to play it as long as I can, and as long as God allows me to do that, that’s what I’m going to continue to do.”

The X's will complete a three-games series on Thursday at Fargo-Moorhead, before traveling to Sioux Falls for a four-game series to wrap up the regular season. 

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