Franklin Labour was a key reason for the Volcanoes success in the first half of the season, leading the Northwest League in home runs, RBIs and runs scored (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings).
On Sunday, July 21, the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes clinched the Northwest League First Half title and automatically earned a playoff spot — it is the first time since 2015 that the Volcanoes have reached the postseason.
One of key reasons to the Volcanoes success is their incredible offensive production. Salem-Keizer is leading the NWL in every major hitting category and has the three of the top four home run hitters in the league.
But the man at the top of that list is Volcanoes outfielder Franklin Labour, who has taken the NWL by storm ever since getting the call up to short season A-ball by the San Francisco Giants — the Volcanoes Major League affiliate.
As of Tuesday, July 23, Labour leads the league in homers (14) RBIs (33) and runs scored (35). He also leads the league in slugging (.703) and in OPS (1.108).
With over a month left in the regular season, Labour appears that he will easily break the Volcanoes single-season home run record — which is held by Adam Witter, who hit 16 bombs back in 2006.
“I just try and be more relaxed and not try to do too much, because the more relaxed that I am, the better I perform,” Labour said.
Labour, who hails from the Dominican Republic, signed a $70,000 minor league contract with the Giants as a 17-year old back in 2015.
He spent his first two years as a professional in the Dominican Summer League playing rookie ball. Labour played one more year of rookie ball in Arizona in 2018 before moving up to short season A-ball this summer.
One of things he most likes about playing for the Volcanoes is that there is a lot more public interest once you move on from playing in the rookie leagues.
“The main difference is the fans. When you’re playing in front of fans, you feel the energy that you just don’t have in the lower levels,” Labour said. “(Keizer) is a beautiful city and the fans have just been great.”
While Labour had decent numbers in his first three seasons in the minors, what really jumps out about this summer is the power numbers that he’s putting up.
In his first three seasons in the minor leagues, Labour only hit seven home runs. But in just 35 games with the Volcanoes, his 14 dingers are almost twice as much as the next highest home run hitter in the NWL (and more than two teams have for the entire season).
Since increasing the launch angle of his swing — which has become a trend in all of professional baseball — Labour has taken himself from a line-drive hitter to one of the most powerful-slugging prospects in the Giants organization.
“I’ve been driving the ball more in the air this year,” Labour said. “All throughout my career, I’ve been making a lot of hard contact, but I was a low line-drive hitter. I hit the ball with the same pop, I just put it in the air and it goes out more.”
While the change in approach has had a lot to do with Labour’s success, Volcanoes skipper Mark Hallberg also believes that having three professional seasons under his belt has better prepared him for this level.
“I think he’s more mature with his approach and he’s more selective on pitches. He is staying within his zone, so when he gets pitches to hit, he’s doing damage with them,” Hallberg said. “When you play more, your strike zone awareness gets more refined. He’s in a nice stretch here where he has a ton of confidence. It’s really cool to see his development and progression.”
Labour echoed his coach’s sentiment.
“It’s been about maturing mentally. Having these long seasons and all these games, you get to a point where you know what you have to do to be ready. That is the main difference between how I am now and how I was two or three years ago. I was trying to do too much. I was trying to impress. But everything takes time. When you know what to do and you don’t have to rush things, it just starts happening.”
If you have been fortunate enough to see Labour blast one out of the Volcanoes Stadium this season, chances are you also might have noticed Keizer mayor Cathy Clark doing a happy dance from her seats on the first base line.
That’s because Clark and her husband, Kevin, are Labour’s host family for the summer, and they are taking great joy in the success of their “son.”
“We cheer for him like a parent would because it feels like we’re cheering for our own kid,” Clark said. “He is a part of our family and it’s been so fun celebrating with him in his success.”
Over the last month, Labour has moved all the way up to No. 22 on the Giants top prospects list according to MLB.com. But Labour isn’t thinking about where he’ll end up next year, he’s focused on ending the regular season strong and putting his squad in good position for the postseason.
“I try to not to pay attention to it because it can be something that gets you out of what you need to be doing,” Labour said. “I’m just thankful for the opportunity and all of the support. I’m just trying to stay focused and play the game the right way. We still have to keep grinding. That’s all I have on my mind right now.”