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Preseason Power 25 Countdown: No. 18 Franklin


By Andy Sroka
Staff Writer

The WIAA high school baseball season opens on March 26, the opening day for prep baseball in Wisconsin.

Leading up to the opening week of action, we’ll be rolling out team-by-team previews, counting down to our state’s preseason No. 1-ranked program for the 2019 season. We’re combing over all classifications and corners of the state to determine our top-25 ranked teams ahead of what’s sure to be an historic campaign, with the merging of the spring and summer divisions into one single WIAA season.

Perennially, we’ve submitted a Preseason Questionnaire to high school head coaches across the entire state. Their responses have been flooding in and we’re using the detailed insight they’ve provided in our analysis.

Our 2019 preseason coverage continues today.

Team: Franklin
Preseason Rank: 18
2018 Record: 14-18
Conference: Southeast
WIAA Division: 1
Head Coach: Jim Hughes
Playoff Run: NA
2018 Final Rank: NR
Returning Starters: 4
Returning Pitchers: 3

TOP PLAYERS

Name State School Class Pos Commitment

Spenser Kent

WI

Franklin

2019

OF


Matt Devinger

WI

Franklin

2019

INF

Wisconsin-La Crosse

Max DeMario

WI

Franklin

2019

OF


Ryan Keesler

WI

Franklin

2019

RHP


Ryan Segebrecht

WI

Franklin

2019

LHP


Tommy Knezevich

WI

Franklin

2019

RHP


Mitchell Alba

WI

Franklin

2020

OF/RHP


Nick Aide

WI

Franklin

2020

SS


Bryce Miller

WI

Franklin

2020

C


Brett Spaulding

WI

Franklin

2020

UTL



KEY PLAYERS LOST

Max Alba, RHP (North Carolina)
Max Boll, C/INF
Danny Osep, INF (Upper Iowa)
Jake Michalski, OF/RHP
Bryce Villarreal, INF

NEWCOMER TO WATCH

The younger brother of Franklin’s since-graduated ace, Mitchell Alba is coming of an attention-grabbing statistical performance at the Madison-area preseason showcase. The 6-foot-3 junior has that premium Alba arm strength but is likely going to offer the Sabers a ton of run production from the right-handed box, too.

Back in Madison, Alba consistently found the barrel in batting practice and topped 91 mph at the exit velocity station. In the outfield, he fired 93 mph throws on a line to home and also ran a sub-7.00 mark in the 60-yard dash. Alba’s also going to help Franklin help make up for the loss of his older brother at the top of the rotation. In his latest bullpen in front of our staff, he sat in the 82-86 mph range, touched 87 mph, and has the makings of the offspeed to become a reliable arm on this staff – in what capacity, that remains to be seen.

Regardless, Alba has turned into one of the more talented juniors in Wisconsin. He’s beginning to blend his gifted toolset into in-game performance, and it’ll help elevate the Sabers into Southeast title contenders, and more.

Mitchell Alba (3/10/19)


X-FACTOR

After almost 50 total years spent at the head of the Franklin Sabers dugout, hall-of-fame head coach Jim Hughes is calling it a career, and the 2019 season will be his last. In his 47 years at the helm of this Franklin program, the Sabers have won state twice and have earned 10 sectional titles.

And even in his last season, he’s still going to experience some firsts. Franklin has long been one of the programs synonymous with Wisconsin’s summer ball season. Since 2019 marks the first season in which the spring and summer schedules merge into one, Hughes’ legendary expertise will be vital to helping Franklin adjust to playing competitive baseball – outdoors – in late March. His presence alone should help this program make the transition to spring ball seamless, which is going to be important in what’s set to be a cutthroat conference.

OUTLOOK

Franklin was particularly young last summer, and aside for ace Max Alba, they didn’t have much experience to lean on when the going got tough. Despite graduating Alba, who’s rehabbing from Tommy John surgery at North Carolina right now, the Sabers’ dugout will look largely the same – and that’s a very good thing.

Its 2019 class is a sturdy foundation to build a memorable season for the hall-of-famer Hughes. Spenser Kent is back, a left-handed-hitting outfielder who hit .422 last summer. He’s an uncommitted senior who should help navigate Franklin’s introduction to spring baseball, which is uncharted territory for one of summer ball’s staples.

Matt Devinger is another senior back in support of Kent and Hughes. The Wisconsin-La Crosse commit hit a tick over .300 last summer and will help Kent stabilize this lineup. Fellow seniors Lucas Nichols, Kian Dillon, and Max DeMario all saw the field as juniors and are set to have their roles expanded in this program’s first season as members of the Southeast Conference.

Gazing over this 2020 class, there are a handful of juniors set to contribute to Franklin’s first season playing baseball in March.

We analyzed Alba in our Newcomer section, but another junior to eye is shortstop Nick Aide. The wiry middle infielder has showed our staff this offseason that he has the arm and glove to stick to the left side of the infield and that his loose bat is promising, and it’s getting better as Aide adds strength. Backstop Bryce Miller is a top-40-ranked prospect in the state’s 2020 class and is another junior who continues to ascend. He’s a durable receiver with above-average arm strength and catch-and-throw skills and has some pop in his right-handed bat. And then there’s Brett Spaulding, the lone returning junior who made the 2018 varsity roster. He hit .254 in a utility role and should take on more responsibility in his junior season, with last year’s experience under his belt.

Franklin’s 2020s should assure the Sabers a chance to compete offensively throughout the 2019 spring. But this pitching staff is another story. There are real question marks here after the three seniors coming back. The trio that backed up Max Alba returns: Ryan Kessler (3.20 ERA), Ryan Segebrecht (2.83), and Tommy Knezevich (4.43). While they’re lacking a prototypical ace, it’s a solid group that should be able to allow its offense to do the heavy lifting in 2019.

BOTTOM LINE

Wisconsin’s 2019 baseball season is one of the most exciting in its history, considering old rivals are meeting once again in this new-look season format. Franklin and their rivals Oak Creek are going to call the Southeast Conference home moving forward, as they transition to a chillier opening day.

This year’s Sabers have a deep, young lineup headlined by a pair of reliable seniors at the top. Its junior class can be a difference-maker, with the potential to carry Franklin to first-year success in the spring, both in their own conference and possibly even in the state tournament.

Make sure to follow @PBRWisconsin on Twitter for the most up-to-date coverage throughout the season.

Find more information on the 2019 Sabers below:

+ Full Schedule
+ Team Website
+ Twitter

PRESEASON POWER 25 COUNTDOWN