The Future is Unwritten: Maikel Franco Scouting Report

Before you read my scouting report on Maikel Franco, I ask that you read the next few paragraphs.

“They’re not all (Buster) Posey.”

Those were the words spoken to me by a front office executive at a game I was at last week. We were discussing The Struggle, the nearly inevitable punch in the face every baseball player receives at least once on their climb toward the Major League stability. There comes a time for nearly all prospects when the horse that has taken them to whichever level they have risen can no longer pull the weight of the professional baseball buggy (Austin Wright is learning this right now, but that’s another show). Prospects that ascend to the Major Leagues unscathed by their own inadequacies are the rarest of the rare. Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Buster Posey, Felix Hernandez… players that navigate the minors without experiencing failure are the exception. It’s far more common for players to arrive in the big leagues bearing scars of development and adjustment like Jeff Samardzija, Carlos Gonzalez and Domonic Brown do.

And yet, we don’t seem to understand this. Our culture is accustomed to things happening very quickly. Our information, our food, our travel and now, seemingly, our prospects. We want him to be good and we want him to be good fast. We want to read reports on that player that reaffirm our own ideas about him. We ask questions that lead to misleading answers like, “When can we expect him in the big leagues?!?!” and “What’s a player in the Majors right now you would compare him to so I can get a grasp of what he’s like as soon as possible?!?”

This alters the prospect writer’s relationship with the reader in a way that, ultimately, does the reader a disservice. You do not want to read about how I think Jesse Biddle is a #3 starter (which, by the way, is pretty damn good). You don’t want me to write a full OFP on Royals prospect Kyle Smith, who is destroying the Carolina League this year, and tell you I think he might make it as a reliever. You want me to tell you how great I think Cody Asche is or that I think Kyle Crick has a #1 starter ceiling. That sort of sensationalism, the kind that appeases the audience, gives birth to phrases like “Baby Aces.” I don’t know how this started. Maybe readers craved these embellished, surreal evaluations and altered the way writers delineated things. Maybe writers chose to melt the prospect clocks themselves in effort to gain readership and are now left to try to feed the beast they created. It is irrelevant. It’s a chicken or the egg puzzle I don’t’ care to solve. But, at the risk of sounding like a dick, I won’t be part of it.

Stop peeking at your presents. Stop thinking you’re getting a Ferrari cake when you’re probably getting an Acura cake. Be Happy with your Acura cake, Acuras are really nice. Realize that the Acura cake takes time to make. Now you can read about Maikel Franco who, in my opinion, is going to be a pretty badass player. Which, given what you’ve just read, should mean a hell of a lot to you.

Maikel Franco is a sturdily built young man. He is listed on the Double-A roster as a hilarious 6’1”, 180lbs. There’s no way anybody with eyesight would peg him for anything less than two bills, and if I were to guess his weight I’d stick him anywhere from 215-225lbs. 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. Franco offers little to no positive physical projection. He’s a big boy, which I like, but I can’t see how getting any bigger would benefit him in any way.

On to the offense. CBSSports.com’s Danny Knobler recently tweeted a quote from a scout who told him that Franco was the “Best impact bat I’ve seen in the minors this year.” I agree. Based on nothing but pure hitting ability and power, I haven’t seen anyone better (Best all everyday player I’ve seen this year: Francisco Lindor. Best arm that hasn’t graduated? Anthony Ranuado, but I keep missing Kyle Zimmer). The swing isn’t perfect but I think it’s fantastic. The hands load deep, a bit past his back foot. That’d be a little too deep for most guys but Franco’s arms are long enough that his front arm doesn’t bar, it stays loose, and he has more than enough bat speed to make up that little extra distance his hands need to travel. The bat path is flat bu with Franco’s bat speed it’s one that’s still conducive of power. It stays in the hitting zone for a good amount of time. Franco also has one of the most efficient, perfect weight transfers I’ve ever seen. His whole body acts as one as he shifts his weight, rotates his hips and triggers his hands to get violent on baseballs. There’s some natural swing and miss there. Franco will often swing really hard, sometimes a little too hard for him to control and stay on the ball. Altogether it’s nearly a plus hit tool (I put a 55 on it, would’ve gone higher if he tracked the ball better) and plus power (60, could be more the hips loosen up a bit) which is more likely to actualize thanks to the nice bat-to-ball ability. That’s sexy.

What I was most pleased with, however, was how early he seemed to be identifying balls and strikes out of the pitchers’ hands.  He was taking anything thrown off the plate with ease. The approach still needs a ton of refining. Franco often swings at the first strike he sees, even if it’s not a good one to hit, and has a tendency to hack at borderline pitches, especially ones up in the zone. Franco also had some trouble staying back on good secondary pitches. Richmond lefty Jason Snodgrass (a sidearmer who pitches with a grade 40 fastball but a 55 changeup) had Franco out on his front foot a few times last week. What I think this might lead to is a little rough patch at Triple-A where pitchers can exploit the poor approach/secondary struggle combination. I think it’d be good for Franco, personally, to be forced to make those adjustments. He’s already learned to deal with failure. He had a .196 OBP in the first half of 2012 at Lakewood, dealt with that failure, and became one of the top two prospects in the system. That shows he has the ability to take instruction and evolve if he need be.

The defense is something some scouts have an issue with. Yes, he’s a 20 runner and he does’nt have David Wright’s range over at third base. I think his reactions and first step are good enough to play there. The arm is an easy 60. I need to evaluate the defense more to get a better handle on it, but I can’t see him being anything worse than a 45 defender over there, provided he doesn’t eat his way across the diamond. I’ll be in Reading plenty more this season to see him and my grade on his defense will come into focuse as the summer rolls along. When I talked to people over the offseason about Franco one thing that kept coming up was that some scouts wanted to see him catch if he couldn’t stick at third base. He certainly does not have to foot speed to play the outfield and the value hit he’d take if he moved to first base would be a large one, so scouts wanted to see if he could put on the gear and catch. The arm would certainly play back there, but at this point the bat has advanced so far that trying to teach him to catch would create a giant chasm between the readiness of his bat and the readiness of his glove. He’s just fine where he is.

I think this is going to be a good player, someone who could make some All Star teams if things break right. But people need to slow their roll on Franco a little bit. I see all the tweets and the articles and have no doubt that many of the uninformed will begin clamoring for his promotion if he continues to hit at the Puigian pace we’ve seen since his promotion to Reading. Please remember, they can’t all be Posey.

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29 comments

  1. Pat

    June 26, 2013 10:51 AM

    Great writeup, Eric.

  2. Chris S.

    June 26, 2013 10:52 AM

    Second what Pat said. Franco gives me hope for 3B in a couple years. Hopefully he can stick at the position and stabilize a position the Phillies have had trouble filling since Rolen left.

  3. nik

    June 26, 2013 10:57 AM

    One of the running jokes over at phuturephillies is based on a comment from a Jim Callis chat where he said Franco would have problems with his ‘arm-bar’ swing. Is it something that he was able to modify, or was Callis’s comment just ill-informed?

    Jim Callis: Not sure I can explain this well but I’ll try … It’s an overextension of the front arm in a swing, which adds length to the swing and makes it difficult to handle good inside fastballs. I like Franco some, he’s one of the best position prospects in the Phillies system, but don’t see him as a future Top 50 guy.

  4. USC

    June 26, 2013 11:04 AM

    Eric, great article. Franco reminds me a lot of his fellow countryman, Aramis Ramirez, though perhaps with slightly less power. That’s still a tremendous player, and one part of a future core. I can see him ready by this time next year.

  5. Eric Longenhagen

    June 26, 2013 11:11 AM

    Nik,

    Yes, when a player’s hands go so far back as they load that the front arm straightens out completely, that’s an arm bar. In general, it is bad. Franco’s load is really deep and most players whose hands go back that far do bar their arm. But Franco’s arms are long, and his hands can go back that far without that from one becoming totally straight. That may not have been the case in the past, maybe they went back even farther in the past, but right now I think it’s fine.

  6. Eric Longenhagen

    June 26, 2013 11:12 AM

    USC,

    I typically don’t like comparing players at all, but that one really isn’t bad.

  7. JM

    June 26, 2013 11:28 AM

    Eric,
    In your opinion, does he go to AAA this year?

  8. Smitty

    June 26, 2013 11:28 AM

    Nicely done.

  9. JM

    June 26, 2013 11:29 AM

    Also, if Franco continues to develop, and so does Asche, where does Asche fit?

  10. Eric Longenhagen

    June 26, 2013 11:35 AM

    JM,

    He might if he continues to punch Double-A in its collective dick for the next month. No idea what they’d do with Asche. I know a few scouts who wonder if he could play second base. I kinda don’t think he could (he’s made strides at third but isn’t great over there) but if Utley gets moved and they call up Hernandez to play every day, AND Franco moves up….maybe they see if that could work. That’s a ton of ifs.

  11. Bill Baer

    June 26, 2013 11:45 AM

    @ Eric

    A mostly irrelevant aside: you say Snodgrass has a 40 fastball and 55 change-up. Is this based on what you’ve heard and read elsewhere, or have you seen him enough to get a feel for his arsenal? The specificity, at least enough to give it a general 20-80 figure, intrigues me.

  12. Eric Longenhagen

    June 26, 2013 12:26 PM

    He started vs Reading last week. I was there for him so that’s my own evaluation. Fastball was 85-86mph

  13. Pablo

    June 26, 2013 12:30 PM

    What type of automotive themed cake is Franco?

  14. Pencilfish

    June 26, 2013 01:06 PM

    Eric,

    If the Phillies move Michael Young next month (he’s not signed beyond 2013 anyway), it would seem likely Asche gets a look at 3B for the remainder of 2013 and 2014. It seems highly unlikely Franco gets a shot in 2014 with only ~200 AB’s above high-A.

  15. Eric Longenhagen

    June 26, 2013 01:13 PM

    You might be right. I think they’d let Freddy play 3B if they move Young but I could see them having a look at Asche, too. It’s highly unlikely Franco is up next year unless he obliterates everything for the next calendar year. Or if, like the Astros kinda did with Jordan Lyles, the front office pushes him to the big leagues to show ownership “Hey, look at this thing we did right!”

  16. Ryan

    June 26, 2013 01:54 PM

    “Or if, like the Astros kinda did with Jordan Lyles, the front office pushes him to the big leagues to show ownership “Hey, look at this thing we did right!”

    RAJ will be all over that one hoping to buy himself some more time.

  17. Jon Cheddar

    June 26, 2013 02:10 PM

    Given the way the current FO has recently handled prospects (much more aggressively than under Wade) I think Franco opens next year at AAA. At that point, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him in the bigs in the second half of the year.

    He needs to be on the 40-man after 2014 anyhow, so they wouldn’t be burning an extra option year or anything.

  18. bubba0101

    June 26, 2013 02:56 PM

    Land Rovers have terrible safety ratings but look sexy. Is that what you’re trying to say? Either way, I hope the phils learned their lesson with the yoyo trick they pulled on Dom. Ethier bring him up early and leave him up the whole time, good and bad, or let him figure it out in triple A, then bring him up and leave him up, good or bad.

  19. Charlie

    June 26, 2013 11:16 PM

    Question about the swing. You stated that his swing is a little longer than most. Is it long enough to cause big issues when he gets older? Also I’ve heard rumblings about his true age. I’m going to believe he’s 20 until proven otherwise, but have you heard any concerns?

  20. Eric Longenhagen

    June 27, 2013 06:46 AM

    The swing looks fine to me, maybe long at times, but overall I think it’s just fine.

    On the age thing: One source told me that, “Some scouts think he’s older than his listed age.” but the same Front office executive I quote in the piece told me the process has gotten better and it’s hard for the kids to change their names and ages now.

    So….I don’t know.

  21. kuvasz

    June 27, 2013 10:42 AM

    One of the most misunderstood saying in our language is that of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who said that “There are no second acts in American lives.” Which does not mean that “you can’t fail and then succeed in America.”

    It has quite a different meaning.

    In traditional drama of three acts, in Act One the conflict of the story is discovered. In this act, the exposition occurs with the introduction of the protagonist.

    The Second Act is the point, where the main character encounters an obstacle that prevents the character from achieving his or her dramatic need. This is known as the complication.

    The Third Act is the climax or resolution…… or “getting to the Major Leagues” in the aforementioned cases.

    Fitzgerald was implying that in American drama, read “American myth” the emphasis is not on the Second Act’s turmoil and struggle, but on its successfully accomplishment, Act Three.

    So, in essence the saying describes an America where nobody wants to hear about the srtuggle, they just want to see the parade.

  22. Phillie697

    June 27, 2013 12:46 PM

    Eric,

    Franco vs. Dom, who projects to have a higher ceiling as a hitter? Dom’s patience seems to make it more likely for him to be a better hitter at the bigs, although said patience isn’t exactly evident this year and he’s doing just fine. Do you see that as Franco’s barrier to becoming elite, or do you think his pitch recognition is just fine once he learns to lay off the borderline stuff?

  23. KH

    June 27, 2013 12:54 PM

    I don’t understand why we can’t just promote this guy based on his play eventually. If he keeps hitting like he is now he will be in the show sooner then later. Not saying this year or anything but if he continues to rake this well all year and has a good spring training next year and start to his minor league season why not next season?

  24. Eric Longenhagen

    June 27, 2013 01:09 PM

    697,

    I think Franco has the higher offensive ceiling, even when you’re looking at it independent of position, because of the player he’d be if those secondary skills clicked. Brownie isn’t quite as gifted with the bat as Franco is, and we can’t teach him to be. Franco MIGHT learn a better approach and have a total offensive package to tout.

    Now, asking who has the higher ceiling and who I think will actually be the better player are two different questions (like, Kohl Stewart has a higher ceiling than Mark Appel but Appel will is far more likely to have a Major League career) and to that question I do not know.

    Domonic Brown’s career path is so strange at this point that I’ve given up on trying to predict anything about him. I know when I evaluated Brown at the same level Franco is at now, I liked him better.

  25. Phillie697

    June 27, 2013 02:16 PM

    @Eric,

    That’s why I asked you about ceiling :) If you can predict what will actually happen to prospects, trust me, I won’t waste my time asking you questions about THAT :P

    Hmm… Then based on the answer you just gave me, I really should be very excited about Franco. Good to know :)

  26. Billy

    June 28, 2013 12:54 AM

    Eric,

    Just wanted to compliment your great contributions to this blog. Phillies fans are really lucky to have a dedicated team producing work as good as this. Keep it up!

  27. joecatz

    June 28, 2013 08:34 AM

    “I don’t understand why we can’t just promote this guy based on his play eventually. If he keeps hitting like he is now he will be in the show sooner then later. Not saying this year or anything but if he continues to rake this well all year and has a good spring training next year and start to his minor league season why not next season?”

    Let me try and put this as easily as I can. You own a company. You have a kid you just hired out of Harvard, who is literally as bright, and as smart and as talented as anyone else you have. He can be a CEO some day.

    But not today. He needs to learn the business, and be ready 100% for the job. You can’t skip two steps because he has the talent, otherwie he’s gonna end up figuring out those steps along the way.

    It doesn’t mean he can’t get there in half the time someone else could, and it doesn’t mean you don’t hire along the way knowing that this kid is the future.

    But throwing him ahead before hes ready is not only detrimental to him, it’s detrimental to the organization too.

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