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02/08/11 10:45 AM EST

Mariners have a lot to like about Franklin

Fast-rising prospect, 19, shows promise of speed, power

SEATTLE -- At 6-foot-1, 175 pounds, Nick Franklin doesn't bear much physical resemblance to Prince Fielder or Wily Mo Pena, two massive Major Leaguers known for their ability to hit baseballs a long way.

Franklin plays shortstop, is considered a promising defensive player and had the speed to steal 25 bases in his first full year in the Mariners' Minor League system.

But the switch-hitting 19-year-old also belted 23 home runs in 129 games for the Class A Clinton LumberKings in 2010, breaking a 49-year-old franchise record. And in the past decade, Fielder and Pena are the only other teenagers to hit that many home runs in a Midwest League season.

"Most people look at me as a small guy with maybe some speed," said Franklin. "But I knew I had power within myself."

The Mariners are just discovering what they've got in their fast-rising Minor League star, a late first-round Draft pick in '09, who was rated 38th among all of baseball's prospects by MLB.com last month.

After leading the Midwest League in home runs and hitting .281 with an .837 OPS primarily as the leadoff and No. 2 hitter for the LumberKings, Franklin was invited to the Mariners' recent FanFest as part of a look to the future, along with fellow prospects Dustin Ackley, Michael Pineda and Kyle Seager.

The youngest of that group by three years, Franklin jumped feetfirst into the FanFest fray and proved both engaging and adept at dealing with fans and media in his first real exposure to the Major League scene.

There's more to being a big league ballplayer than just dealing with people, but Franklin hit a home run in that aspect as well in his FanFest debut and exuded natural leadership for a kid just a year removed from Lake Brantley High in Altamonte Springs, Fla.

"It was a lot to take in," he said. "My first time seeing those fans, being on the field having them watch every move you make, it was pretty awesome. It was a great experience and I look forward to interacting more with fans. They're a great piece to the Mariners organization. Without them, you're playing the game by yourself."

Franklin has been working with personal trainer Jeff Higuera in Orlando, Fla., over the offseason, doing a lot of boxing drills to improve his agility and conditioning. He'll report to Minor League camp in Peoria, Ariz., on March 11 and says he isn't stressing about whether he's headed to High Desert in the Class A California League or given a big jump to Double-A Jackson, the former West Tenn affiliation.

"No clue. The organization hasn't told me anything," he said. "I'll go into Spring Training and play hard. I'm just looking for a spot and place to play. ... Whether it's high A or Double-A, I'll play my heart out. It doesn't matter where I'm placed in the Minor Leagues, my ultimate goal is to get to the big leagues."

While there are no guarantees there, the Mariners obviously love what they've seen so far from the youngster taken with the 27th pick in the '09 Draft -- 25 picks behind Ackley. Not all teams saw Franklin as a first-round talent, but Mariners scouting director Tom McNamara pushed hard for him.

"You have to give Tom a lot of credit on this guy," Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "He kind of went against the grain with him on the 27th pick, and he has not disappointed. ... We think he can be a shortstop and middle-of-the-order hitter, and that's a tremendous commodity."

Franklin has been to Seattle twice now -- first to sign his contract in '09, when he took batting practice with the Mariners before a game against the Yankees and was fortunate enough to have had his picture taken in the dugout with Ken Griffey Jr.

And then he flew up from Florida again for this year's FanFest at the club's request, which he admits was both a surprise and honor at his age.

"On the way over from the airport, I was looking at Safeco [Field] thinking, 'Man, I'd do anything to get here as quickly as possible,'" he said. "I'm just excited to get started. Looking at Safeco, it's just like, 'Wow, hopefully I'll be here in a year or two, playing for the Mariners in the big leagues for a while.'"

Talent evaluators certainly think he's got that chance. He was one of just three Minor Leaguers to hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases last year, while also scoring 89 runs with 65 RBIs. He got a one-game promotion to the Double-A Diamond Jaxx at year's end to fill in for an injured Carlos Triunfel, and he went 2-for-3 with a walk and three runs.

Getting ranked among MLB.com's Top 50 Prospects was just icing on the cake.

"I don't want to take it too much to the head," he said. "I'm just going to worry about playing baseball and enjoy my time while I can. Mostly it's an honor just to be considered one of the top prospects in the Mariners' organization. That's really what it's all about, being in an organization that cares about you.

"I'm playing for the Mariners, I'm not playing for the Top 50 Prospects. It's an honor, but I love who I'm with. I love the Mariners. I'm excited to get started in Spring Training and see what comes next."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.