San Francisco Giants prospect Franklin Labour is off to a pretty good start this season for the short-season A Salem-Keizer Volcanoes of the Northwest League.
Actually, “pretty good” is an understatement.
The powerful outfielder has hit 10 home runs with 20 RBIs in 19 games – a pace that would obliterate the league’s home run record over a full 76-game schedule. In a three-game series this week against the Spokane Indians at Avista Stadium, Labour crushed five homers and drove in six runs.
“When talking to my friends about it, the last couple of games I’ve been seeing the ball real big and kinda slow,” Labour said. “I’m trying to be early with my timing and just try and not miss my pitch.”
He’s not missing many – his lineout to center in Tuesday’s game was probably his hardest hit ball all series. Indians center fielder Kellen Strahm crashed into the fence to rob Labour of extra bases.
“You know, that’s why I’ve been working on trying not to miss the fastball, and he just laid that one down the middle,” Labour explained. “I just tried to make a good swing. I wasn’t trying to hit a homer or anything, just trying to hit it hard.”
The Giants have been cautious with Labour since signing him for $70,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2015. He spent his first two years as a pro in the rookie-level Dominican Summer League and didn’t make his U.S. debut until 2018.
Labour hit one home run last year in 37 games for the Giants’ Arizona Rookie League team, hitting .269 with a .379 on-base percentage – but he did smack 14 doubles. This season thus far he’s slashing .314/.408/.743.
“I’ve been trying to keep the same approach (as last year),” Labour said. “But I’ve been working with the guys since spring training on (elevating) and staying in my hot zone, seeing fastball and not missing that fastball. And I’m driving the ball more in the air. Because last season, I used to hit more line drives, so I got more doubles. But this year, we’re trying to hit the ball more in the air and with my pop the ball is just going out.”
Launch angle is a buzzword across baseball, and Labour is aware of some of big leaguers and hitting gurus professing the benefits leading to an increase in home runs.
“You hear the trainers and the coaches and all of them talking about it, since spring training since last year,” Labour said. “But I’m not trying to think a lot about it. Because when I do I tend to drop my elbow and my shoulders and I hit a lot of popups and fly balls. I just try to have a good connection with my body, my legs, my core, and all of that is through work with the trainers and conditioning. And it’s just having good swings.”
Like most players, Labour wants to keep things simple.
“The more I think, the more I fail, so I just try not to think.”
Labour has moved up the Giants prospect lists, registering at No. 23 by MLB.com in their midseason updates.
“It actually caught me by surprise because I didn’t even know,” he admitted. “I had some messages in my Instagram from my friends congratulating me and I was like ‘What are you talking about?’ And then when I found out I was like, ‘Oh, that’s cool.’ I just kind of keep up the work and try not to get too big thinking about it.”
The other teams across the NWL probably won’t mind if Labour forces the Giants’ hand a bit and he fulfills one of his goals for the season.
“Well, I’ve been thinking I’d probably like get to to Low-A because I want to be able to play in winter ball back in the Dominican Republic. And for me as another player from (the D.R.), I have to (reach) that level so I can get in the (winter league) draft over there.”
His Dominican roots are a big influence on the the player and person Labour is. Baseball culture is ever-present there, helped form his earliest baseball heroes – and keeps him grounded.
“Well, when I was younger, Manny Ramirez was the best,” Labour said. “And I like the way Carlos Gomez plays. The way he plays he reminds me a little bit of Mike Trout, I don’t know why. But my guy was always Manny Ramirez.”
Labour said he’s really enjoying traveling across the Pacific Northwest to play baseball, but misses the comforts of his home country.
“I love dancing. I love salsa, bachata, merengue. I love all of that,” he said. “And I love going to the beach. I guess that’s something I’m looking forward to when I go back to my country. Maybe spend a week at a beach or something like that.”
The 21-year-old also misses his mom. Labour said his family follows every game through online radio and Gameday on MiLB.com.
“I’m just happy that my mom is enjoying my success,” he admitted. “My parents were planning on coming here. But if they cannot make it, they stay awake until 2 or 3 in the morning because there’s 3 hours difference. They say ‘I don’t care what time it is over here, just call me when the game is over.’ ”
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