Atlanta Braves outfield prospect Jesse Franklin V just wrapped up a monstrous June. How monstrous you ask? In 22 June games, Franklin slashed .338/.412/.757 with five doubles, eight home runs, 19 RBI and six stolen bases.
We caught up with the hot-hitting Franklin and talked College World Series, draft day and what’s clicked after a slow start to his first professional season.
Team 153: Franklin’s run in the 2019 College World Series
Franklin was part of Michigan’s magical 2019 college baseball team. Dubbed “Team 153”, that Wolverines squad made an unbelievable run, falling just one game short of the national championship.
“That was probably the coolest thing I’ve ever done,” Franklin told me. “Me and all the guys still talk about it at least once a month. Something comes up that reminds us of it, or we see pictures that we all have. It was just an awesome experience.”
Once in Omaha, Franklin caught fire. He went 8-for-24, scoring six runs and driving in six more. It was a venue he had some familiarity with, but was completely different than he had ever experienced.
“We played at TD Ameritrade for the Big 10 tournament,” Franklin said. “We’d seen the field with a few fans in it. And then... the College World Series — all the different fans in different jerseys, the flyovers before the game, all the cameramen running around — I could have played 150 games there.”
Mississippi State just wrapped up its first national championship, defeating Vanderbilt in three games. Michigan was in the same 2019 CWS field as Mississippi State, and when you see a familiar face around the High-A East, you can’t help but reminisce.
“I was talking to Jordan Westburg [a Mississippi State alum who was in the same College World Series] while I was on second base,” Franklin said of a game this past Wednesday against the Aberdeen IronBirds. “I asked him if he was a little jealous he wasn’t there. He said he was, and I told him I felt that, too.”
Mississippi State was able to defeat Kumar Rocker to win the championship. Rocker, of course, is expected to go very high in this year’s MLB draft. He’s a pitcher Franklin knows all too well.
“He was so good,” Franklin said. “He pitches with a lot of confidence, and deservedly so. He’s pitched in so many big games for them. It’s still a bummer that we couldn’t string something together off him like Mississippi State did.”
MLB draft day and the ever so odd 2020 Atlanta Braves debut
Despite five of those Wolverines — Tommy Henry, Karl Kauffman, Jordan Brewer, Jack Weisenburger and Jimmy Kerr — being drafted at the end of the season, Michigan had enough returning in 2020 to be a contender for Omaha, with Franklin one of the stars. Just prior to opening day, Franklin went down with an injury and before he could get back on the baseball field to improve his MLB draft stock, 2020 happened.
With such an unusual and small five-round draft, Franklin wasn’t sure what to expect. The Braves had seen enough that they took a chance on Franklin in the third round.
“It was pretty stressful and there were a lot of unknowns,” Franklin said of the MLB draft. “I thought I had a shot to sneak into the fifth round, but I was prepared to go back to Michigan. I was really okay with either option. But it ended up working out really well and made the decision easy.”
Though he wouldn’t return to organized ball in 2020, Franklin did get to head to Gwinnett and had some time at the alternate site.
“I felt really lucky to even play at all because there were so many players that didn’t get to,” Franklin said of the different start to his pro career. “But it was awesome to meet different coaches and older guys in the organization and some guys that had been drafted just a year before me.
“Definitely wasn’t the normal entry route, but for the circumstances it was awesome. I got 150 at-bats that summer and got to face a lot of big-league arms. I got to do outfield drills with [Cristian] Pache and [Drew] Waters. I got to watch how their tools work and what they do every day, talking to them and getting to know them.”
Of the arms he faced, who was the toughest? Franklin answered pretty quickly and confidently: “Kyle Muller. He’s a lefty and I’m a lefty and he throws so hard.”
How Cody Milligan changed Franklin’s — and the Rome Braves — season
Jesse Franklin returned to the diamond on MiLB Opening Day 2021 when the Rome Braves traveled to Winston-Salem. His return went well, going 2-for-4 with an RBI. But it quickly went downhill. Franklin ended May hitting .200 with a .481 OPS and no home runs.
“I think I needed time,” Franklin said of his slow start. “It was trial and error while I found my swing that I was comfortable with. There’s also a lot of really good arms in High-A. There was a little bit of getting back into the game, but there’s also the fact that pro baseball is tough.”
Pro ball is tough, and with only four levels in Minor League Baseball to start 2021, the talent is arguably deeper than it has ever been.
“The talent was about what I expected, but the consistency was different,” Franklin said. “Like on the Cape [Cod Baseball League], you’d get two guys that were really tough, but then you’d get two or three guys you could get some knocks off. Here, it’s just a consistent level of high talent.”
Something had to change. Enter Rome Braves second baseman Cody Milligan.
“At instructs, I did pretty well,” Franklin said. “A few guys on the team now were at instructs with me. Cody Milligan mentioned, ‘Hey, you used to hit more upright at instructs — what happened to that?’
“I thought about it and went back to swinging the way I was used to. Things got more fluid, and I began to hit the ball harder and see the ball better. It took a month of not doing very well to go back to what I was comfortable with.”
And the hits, well, they keep rolling. After that monster June, Franklin began July with some fireworks, going 2-for-4 with a double and the game-winning home run in Rome’s 5-4 victory over the Wilmington Blue Rocks Friday night. The guy that plays next to him, Michael Harris II, had a big night as well, getting three more hits.
“He’s my roommate on the road,” Franklin said of Harris. “And I got to know him well at the alternate site last year. Obviously, he’s super talented, but he’s also just a fun guy to play with. He’s levelheaded and a goofball. You can always talk with him no matter what kind of game he’s having.”
Franklin is hitting .273 with an .851 OPS. He’s showing great gap-to-gap power with ten doubles and leads the team with nine home runs. He’s also been successful on the base paths, swiping 13 of his 14 stolen base attempts. He’s on a hot streak we haven’t seen in Rome since Austin Riley’s absurd second half in the 2016 championship run.
And it doesn’t appear to be coming to an end any time soon.
Two things you must know about Jesse Franklin:
Favorite baseball movie: “Sandlot. Being a kid and playing, going to the pool. It reminds me of Little League and All Stars and my summers growing up.”
Favorite team and player growing up: “I followed the Mariners. My favorite player was Adrian Beltre. He was always laughing and messing around. He had that swing going down to one knee and a strong arm at third, he was just fun to watch.”