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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.