Maikel Franco is just 21-years-old but he’s already made a big impact in the Minor Leagues.
Franco was signed as an international free agent in 2010 by the Phillies and immediately reported to Rookie ball. Franco didn’t have a very strong half of the 2010 season, and he didn’t do too much better the following year in Low-A ball. Through the 2010 and 2011 seasons, from Rookie ball to A-ball, Franco hit just five home runs in 513 plate appearances. He also had a batting average of just .234 over those two years as well.
Franco took a turn in 2012 playing A-ball when he hit .280 with 14 home runs in 554 plate appearances. His contact got better as he was striking out a lot less than he had in previous minor league seasons. His strike out rate from 2010-2011 was 17.7-percent but it was just 14.4-percent in a full season at A-Ball in 2012.
Franco’s strike out rate improved last year, too, as he was just 13.5-percent at High-A and 10.6-percent at Double-A in 2013. He didn’t improve his walk rate to any significant degree, but again, he was making more contact and that led to an aggregate batting average from those two levels of .320. He also launched 31 home runs last year between the two leagues, an announcement that Franco had really arrived as a prospect.
The prospect reports from Franco are a bit varied but there is one common theme: He’s slow with great hand-eye. Over at Crashburn Alley, Eric Longenhagen had a few words to say about this:
His lower half is ample, strong, and rotund. In general, this is a good thing, but on first sight you can’t help but wonder if it’s going to limit his movement skills over at third base.
This is a fairly important observation. Franco could very well get a shot at third base this year with the Phillies, but that’s probably not going to happen until he can play consistent, competent third base.
There are lots of scouting reports that say pretty much the same thing about his bat, but here’s one from a Philadelphia Phillies prospects blog:
The good news is that he has incredible hand-eye coordination and great bat speed. The bad news is that he has a horrible approach and a hole on same-side breaking balls…
This would be consistent with his minor league numbers. Franco has the natural talent to limit strike outs but he has never really had a solid and consistent walk rate. Those kinds of players can be nerve-wracking, because the inability to take a walk can create a huge fluctuation in batting average. The power is real, but the batting average could easily suffer with his approach.
Franco’s defense seemingly is not very well suited for third base, but that’s probably the only spot that is open to him on this Phillies squad as constructed. Franco is not coming in and taking Ryan Howard’s spot at first base until that contract is up, so it’s third base or nothing.
Third base has a quicker path to the MLB than first base does for the Phillies, so I would not be shocked to see Franco up at some time this year. Cody Asche is not a big obstacle for him and his progress to the Majors. Ryan Howard is, though, so he had better shape up on defense.
Once Franco gets to the Bigs, it’s really a crapshoot as to how he performs. Maybe his natural talent is enough for his batting average not to crater; maybe he learns how to play a solid third base. Those are a couple of big maybes, however.
His outlook for 2014 depends on when the Phillies feel like calling him up, and also when they feel like giving up on Asche. In all likelihood, it’s going to be into June before we see Franco in the Majors (if not later). There’s no need to make a move for him any time soon.
When he finally does get the call, the best projections don’t have him much higher than a .250 average even though he brings a good amount of power. In a half season, Franco can lob 10 home runs over the wall, but it will almost surely be at the expense of batting average. If fantasy baseball owners are looking to replace a Chris Carter-type later in the season, Franco is fine. Expecting a big rookie season from him, however, is a mistake.
In most leagues, Franco can just sit on the waiver wire for now. His power is for real, though, so those lacking home runs should keep an eye for when he gets the call. If owners can stomach a poor batting average, they could be rewarded with a spike in home runs.