If there’s one thing I’ve gotten good at over the years, it’s admitting that I was wrong. I don’t make many mistakes, but when I do I try my best to own them. My son and I decided at the last minute to attend this Tuesday’s Iron Pigs game, each for our own reasons. My son was excited for the return of one of his favorite Iron Pigs alums, Cody Asche. I was there to get another look at Maikel Franco in the flesh in an attempt to reconcile my gut feelings on him as a player. There were a few others to watch, but I was there specifically for Franco. With rumors swirling that the Phillies were calling him up for this weekend (news that became official today), I knew my opportunities were dwindling. My son met his goals, getting autographs from Asche, Dom Brown, and even Columbus players Francisco Lindor and Michael Roth. Would I be as successful?
Over the past 14 months, I’ve seen Maikel Franco play in person around 20. times. As I’ve stated in previous articles, very rarely have I come away impressed. Franco has often looked to be guessing (incorrectly) at pitches and seemed far too aggressive at the plate. He chased pitches early in counts that he couldn’t do much with and got himself out far too often. Most distressing, he never seemed to work deep into counts. Now, his surge in production during the second half of 2014 did coincide with a much more patient approach, but Franco still reverted to his poor habits and approach far too often for my taste. I was encouraged to read about his successes during winter ball and hoped that his development would continue into spring training. From what I saw of him, this was not the case. Not long into camp, the club reassigned him to minor league camp, where he finished up Grapefruit League action. However, once the AAA season began, Franco began putting up consistently impressive numbers. His name has crept to the forefront of the organization in 2015 and it’s much deserved because of his production. But in the handful of games I’ve seen Franco has continued to look over matched and rarely comfortable at the plate. Why the discrepancy? Did my Eye Test fail me? Or did I catch him on his “off nights”? The only way to find out was to increase the sample size. And here’s what I saw:
One big advantage Franco had on this night was batting right after Cody Asche. With Asche reaching base 5 times on the night, Franco faced a pitcher throwing out the stretch all night long. In his first at bat, Franco came up with two runners on against starter Jordan Cooper. Franco got something to hit on the second pitch and fouled off a fastball. The next pitch wasn’t as lucky as Franco took it to the warning track in straight away center field. It was an out but a solid at bat resulting in a VERY hard hit ball.
In the third Franco again came up with a runner on after an Asche walk. Cooper seemed to going right after Franco again and he responded with a sharp single to right on the third pitch. Very much like the first at bat, the approach was good and the result even better.
Fast forward to the fifth inning when Franco came up with runners on the corners and no one out. This time Franco showed off his improved approach and patience working a full count before flying out to center field, deep enough to score the run. Again, a good at bat with a positive result.
In the seventh inning, Franco followed a Cody Asche single and took the box with no outs and a newly entered Jeff Manship on the mound. Again, the pitcher pounded the zone and got Franco to ground sharply into a double play. While, the result wasn’t the best, he attacked pitches he could handle and struck another ball hard.
To this point, I liked what I saw from Franco and was starting to turn the corner. Then the ninth inning happened. The Pigs trailed 5-4 and were facing the Clippers’ hard throwing closer Austin Adams. Adams was sitting in the upper 90s but couldn’t throw a strike, walking three hitters before Franco came to the plate. With the game on the line and an opportunity to walk off a winner, I’ve seen Franco really squander these chances in the past. But after watching a fastball sail high and a slider drop low, Franco got himself in a hitter’s count and delivered a walk off hit, driving the ball over the outfielders heads to plate two runs. I was sold.
If anyone has access to Maikel and could relay the following message him, I’d appreciate it. Maikel, I was wrong and I apologize for it. I’ve been far too hard on you and can now see that. I recognize that the five at bats I witnessed were an even smaller sample size than I’ve used for my previous opinion, but the consistency of approach in those five plate appearances was in stark contrast to what I’ve seen before. Maybe it’s too late, but I’ve turned the corner on Franco and think there’s much more hope than I’ve previously reported. This “being wrong” thing isn’t so bad. But I don’t want to get used to it.