Maikel Franco has been on Phillies fans radar’s for almost 2 years now, ever since he mashed pitching in the Florida State League. There was some clamoring for him to win the third base job out of spring training in 2014, but the Phillies sent him to Lehigh Valley for the season. But now it appears they will be calling up the right-handed third baseman, so who is Maikel Franco, and what should Phillies fans expect from Franco going forward.
The Phillies signed Franco in January 2010 as a 17-year-old, for $100,000. Many teams were scared away be his lack of speed as he put up record low times in running drills (7.7 60-yard dash), and the overall lack of athleticism. Due to the arm strength and lack of foot speed some teams saw him as a catcher, and the Phillies tried him behind the plate briefly, before ultimately sticking him at third base.
Rise Through the Minors:
Franco first appeared on prospect lists after hitting .287/.367/.411 in the New York Penn League in 2011 at age 18. Franco struggled early in 2012 for Lakewood, but the Phillies worked with him to hit to other fields and he showed marked improvement going from a .207/.269/.338 first half line to hitting .346/.395/.530 in the second half of the year. Franco continued that breakout into 2013 where he hit .320/.356/.569 with 31 home runs across hi-A and AA. However, there were some distinct holes to his game which involved a pull heavy approach and a tendency to make weak contact based purely on his hand-eye coordination and bat speed.
Franco has had a poor statistical year in AAA, but it has been a year of growth, and his .256/.297/.427 batting line does not tell the whole story. Franco has been making much better contact in the second half of the year, with a .309/.326/.549 after the AAA All-Star game. The up-tick in power has come at a price, his walk rate has plummeted as he has been more aggressive at the plate (working to attack strikes when pitchers work in the zone), but the results have shown up positively in his batted ball data.
Franco has been able to elevate the ball more and has made less poor contact off of bad swings. Here is what his spray chart looks like during the July-August stretch.
Maikel Franco The Player:
At the plate Franco has a deep load and his arms get extended before coming forward through the zone. This gives the swing length and the bat is not in the hitting zone long. However, Franco has great hands and bat speed and has shown the ability to make swing adjustments to put the bat on the ball. He has plus to plus plus raw power and can square up baseballs for big time pull power. As you can see from the spray chart above, most of his contact has been to the pull side, and he has been unable to reproduce his results from Lakewood where he was able to show power and contact to all fields. He will need to adjust in the majors or teams will start to shift him.
Franco is going to have an adjustment period in the major leagues on offense, because of the swing. He has had a tendency in the past to be left guessing because the length of the swing put him in a bad hitting position. The hands are good enough that he can still make contact during these periods, but the quality of contact suffers. In the majors he is going to see more pitchers with premium stuff that will be able to sequence their pitches to keep him off-balance (he has especially struggled with pitchers working backwards to him). He does have the raw tools to make the adjustments, but it will be a struggle, and one that might take most are all of the 2015 season.
In the field, Franco has a lot of things you want in a third baseman. His hands are soft and his actions are fairly good, his throwing arm is at least plus. The issues really stem from his range, he is a very slow accelerator and he can struggle on balls that require him to use large amounts of range. This is something that was evident at the Futures Game this summer when he was in defensive drills and was much slower than anyone else on any ball that required movement. The Phillies may also look to clean up his throwing motion has he can get slingy from a sidearm slot, it does allow him to get the ball out quickly, but he does sacrifice some strength and accuracy, they may be able to get some plus plus throws by cleaning it up some. Franco should be able to stick at third base for a good amount of time, but he is likely not going to be a defensive asset. At first base his arm is a bit wasted, but he is a solid defender and should be a positive. The third base questions will continue to exist as Franco ages and gets slower.
Long term Maikel Franco could be a first division regular and occasional All-Star, but it is going to take him working his approach into a place that allows him to get to his power and draw enough walks to provide some on base value (somewhere in the 6%-7%). It may be a steep learning curve for Franco, but there are some parts of the package that are very appealing.