Razorbacks in the MiLB – Early-Season Check-In (Part III)

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Our series catching up with former Arkansas players in the minor leagues shifts from the mound to the plate.

Believe it or not, there are currently fewer noteworthy position players in the minors. A lot of that is due to the youth combined with less opportunity.

Some cases involve injuries, such as with outfielder Heston Kjerstad. Coming out of the college ranks as the No. 2 overall pick, he had tons of promise. The Baltimore Orioles took a chance, only to discover his internal injury issues.

Practically two years later, Heston still sits on the 60-day injured list. While there is still a chance he might be able to return down the road, not many are holding their breath. Here’s a look at four more former Razorbacks and how they’re faring in the minor leagues.

Christian Franklin – Outfield

A fan favorite during his Arkansas tenure, Franklin is a member of the Chicago Cubs’ organization. He is currently with their Single-A affiliate in Myrtle Beach. Franklin is currently on the 60-day injured list and has not appeared yet in 2022. As a former fourth-round pick in 2021, he still has plenty of career left ahead of him.

Playing all of 2021 in Single-A, he totaled 76 plate appearances. Those at-bats led to a .237 batting average. Franklin added a home run and eight RBIs.

He also has four total stolen bases — something he excelled at in Fayetteville. He has 25 strikeouts and 20 walks.

It all boils down to his OPS resting at .742 which isn’t incredible. OPS is the combination of a player’s slugging percentage and on-base percentage. The higher the OPS number, the odds are that the player is better at the plate.

With Franklin’s slugging percentage sitting at .316, it proves he isn’t a top-notch power hitter. Being out for the entirety of 2022 leaves no timetable for when he might return. The focus will hopefully be to regain his footing and restart the grind to reach High-A.

Charlie Welch – Catcher/Designated Hitter

A player that left the Razorbacks with a bang in 2021, many thought Welch wouldn’t get drafted. His lack of versatility and size as a designated hitter certainly dug that hole bigger. To keep him from having to escape such a pit, the Seattle Mariners took a chance on him.

Drafted in the 19th round, he is currently in High-A ball after getting promoted on April 7. Welch has had the opportunity to play in 2021 and 2022.

For his MiLB career, he has totaled 111 at-bats and has a batting average of .261. Stemming from that average is seven home runs and 22 RBIs. Welch has one stolen base attached to his name, which is something he was not known for.

Holding a higher OPS than the aforementioned Franklin, it holds at a respectable .951. Making up that number partially is a .531 slugging percentage — reflective of his primary purpose in Fayetteville. For his career he has struck out 39 times and has walked 29 times

Moving up in the ranks has hurt his stats slightly as he attempts to adjust to better pitching. With a batting average dropping from .348 in 2021 to .200 this season, it’s clear it hasn’t been simple.

His 2022 average comes from 65 total at-bats and includes four long shots. With only nine RBIs throughout the season, other numbers have increased. 24 strikeouts in 65 plate appearances is probably his biggest blemish on the stat sheet.

His OPS has also been lower than his career average, sitting at .834 on the season. There doesn’t seem to be a world where Welch moves up to Double-A relatively soon. While he continues to adjust to High-A baseball, getting his batting average back above .250 would be a fantastic start.

Casey Martin – Infield

With a career of ups and downs, Casey Martin has been a human rollercoaster in the game of baseball. Drafted in the third round in 2020, the 23-year-old has shown tons of promise at times.

Working his way up to the High-A Affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies has been a grind. For his career, the righty has 511 at-bats — a huge step up in comparison to his aforementioned peers. While he doesn’t hold a great average at the plate, he has been consistent nonetheless.

His career batting average sits at .196 which includes nine homers and 52 RBIs. Being a threat with his speed to an extent, he has racked up 22 stolen bases. The OPS numbers for Martin have also been consistent, with his career number at .590. With a lower on-base percentage, his .309 slugging percentage has been the primary factor in his OPS.

He has seen lots of action in 2022 thus far as he tries to reach Double-A. With 137 at-bats, he holds a .190 batting average. Accompanying Martin’s average is two home runs and 10 RBIs.

He has also drawn 10 walks and stolen five bases. Applying 35 strikeouts to his numbers has caused his OPS to appear slightly lower at .560 on the season. Martin has always been a player who coaches want to get on base.

The problem arises in his inconsistency to do so. Many are holding out hope that Martin can surpass the .200 batting average mark on his way to becoming a decent slugger.

Dominic Fletcher – Right Field

Promoted on May 19 to the Reno Aces, Fletcher is gaining in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. A former top-100 pick in the 2019 draft, he was certainly a fun player to watch while in Fayetteville. For his minor league career across multiple leagues, he has 768 at-bats, a .294 average, 27 homers and a stupendous 119 RBIs.

The 2021 season is one that took a slight toll on his overall stats. Slugging percent is much of the same, with his career number being .471. Paired with his on-base percentage, his OPS stands at .826.

Getting recently promoted should be enough to note that he has had an improved 2022 season. After batting .264 in 2021, Fletcher is hitting .342 with seven home runs, 35 RBIs and a stellar .966 OPS. With a slugging percent of .562 and more walks taken, it is no secret how he has improved.

The 24-year-old lefty will need to continue battling as he flies up the ranks. With the Diamondbacks being loaded with young talent in the outfield, he will have his work cut out for him. Regarding Reno, there are five total outfielders on the active roster with one on the 7-day IL.

While he may not start immediately, Fletcher will get his shot at the Triple-A level. Now, the wait is on to see if he can make it to “the show.”