Preseason Power 25 Countdown: No. 13 Franklin


By Andy Sroka
Staff Writer, Associate Scout

On Tuesday, April 21, the WIAA Board of Control asserted to cancel all 2020 spring competitions, baseball included. While saddened for the graduating class of 2020, the PBR Wisconsin staff will do its best to highlight what could have been this spring, in what was set to be an exciting campaign filled with intriguing storylines to know and players to follow.

We published our ‘Watchlist Squads’ post on Monday, April 20, spotlighting almost 20 need-to-know programs that fell short of official ‘Bubble’ or Power 25 status for our preseason team rankings. We also declared 18 more programs official ‘On the Bubble’ teams, teams that earned sincere Power 25 consideration.

Today, we continue our countdown to No. 1, the top-ranked team on the PBR Wisconsin Preseason Power 25. We’ll be releasing a team a day in our lead-up to No. 1, and we’re onto No. 13 this evening.

Team: Franklin
Preseason Rank: No. 13
2019 Record: 20-8
Conference: Southeast
WIAA Class: D-1
Head Coach: Steve Drobot
Playoff Run: Sectional Semifinalists
2019 Final Rank: No. 23
Returning Starters: 5
Returning Pitchers: 3 

OUTLOOK

After 47 years, and 938 wins over that span, Franklin’s legendary head coach Jim Hughes retired, making way for the Sabers to welcome a new face at the helm: Steve Drobot, who spent the last seven years next to Hughes on the bench.

So, with that, it’s tough to project how Franklin would have handled this brand new environment, coming off a 20-win spring – the first spring season in their program’s history – returning five starters with an especially alluring 2022 class of reinforcements on the way. This lost season hurts a robust senior group that includes OF/RHP Mitchell Alba (Eastern Illinois commit), C Bryce Miller (Jefferson JC), SS Nick Aide (Rock Valley JC), and RHP Steven Kleyheeg (Rock Valley JC), among others. We’ll get to this group in our ‘Senior Spotlight’ section next, but it’s at least a little comforting to know that the Sabers aren’t going anywhere, because this 2022 class has a chance to take this team the distance at some point between now and their graduation.

Losing the critical sophomore experience hurts, what would have been their first taste of varsity action for this group, but they have the talent to hit the ground running in 2021. RHP Jaxon Easterlin, OF Dylan Mass, RHP/INF Carson Fluguar, INF Keaton Arendt, OF Charlie Marion, RHP Max Martin, and OF Max Semancik each have already established themselves as follows and we’re eager to see how they can lift this program to within the perennially fun and competitive Southeast Conference – and we’re equally disappointed they won’t get the chance to make their marks first in 2020.

Jaxon Easterlin (3/1/20)

Easterlin is an especially projectable 6-foot-4 righty who was up to an easy 83 mph at the start of March with an above-average changeup and breaking ball. Mass swings a loose and live bat that should slot into the middle of this order in the near future, as soon as next spring. Fluguar is has some overall athleticism attached to his game and was up to 83 mph himself last October. Arendt earned some starting time at shortstop late last spring as an injured replacement and could have forced his way back there again. Marion is another left-handed bat to know for the future. Martin looks like another follow arm on this staff, and he showed especially well in-game late in 2019. Semancik is a strong left/left prospect who had a chance to earn significant playing time as a sophomore, too.

UTL/RHP Joe Turco is further establishing himself as a prospect in this state’s junior in the class. He swings a quiet, strong right-handed bat but has taken a step in the right direction on the mound, with a quick arm into the low-80s and effective feel for a changeup and curveball. OF Dyson Klubertanz is another junior flying under the radar we were excited to see for the first time, as well.

Joe Turco (3/1/20)

Looking ahead, there are even a few freshmen who could have earned some irregular playing time in 2020 and are bound to make some sort of impact in 2021.

SENIOR SPOTLIGHT

Circling back to this senior group, including the aforementioned Alba, Miller, Aide, and Kleyheeg, they looked perfectly situated to take care of the bulk of the heavy lifting on both offense and from the mound. Alba was in the mid-80s throughout 2019, wielding one of the best sliders in the state to back it up, and he’s also a 6.90 runner with bat strength and speed. He would have been relied on as the ace of staff, making up one of the top batteries in a conference full of talented ones.

Mitchell Alba (7/16/19)

Few members of this state’s 2020 class improved their personal prospect stock as well as Bryce Miller, who found his home this fall at Jefferson JC, one of the top JUCO programs in the Midwest. He’s a strong 6-foot-2 catcher with efficient actions out of the chute, and he generates some easy bat strength from the right side. He was set to be the Sabers’ main run-producer this spring.

Aide’s an above-average defender up the middle of the infield, Kleyheeg is a big frame righty with a steep, low-80s fastball; and classmates 1B Brett Spaulding, RHP Tyler Strausbaugh, and OF Drew Nackel were set to fill out the rest of this order, extending its depth.

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