A Brief Written History of Maikel Franco
News broke this morning, from basically every beat writer who was awake, that the Phillies have called up third baseman Maikel Franco from AAA to start at the hot corner tonight and with any luck, long into the future. This shouldn’t be much of a surprise, given the recent demotion of incumbent Cody Asche to log innings in left field, and Franco’s torrid pace at Lehigh Valley thus far. He was slashing .350/.372/.540/.912 with a .418 wOBA and a 166 wRC+. All that, and he was two years younger than anyone else in the Top Ten in OPS in the International League, and the fifth youngest position player in that league overall.
You may ask yourself, how did he get here? Well, Franco was signed for $100k out of the Dom Rep in the 2009-2010 signing period, and had a pretty uneventful age 17 season in the GCL in 2010. He was double-jumped to Low-A Lakewood to start 2011, with pretty horrendous results – a 161 wOBA and a wRC+ -9, (negative nine, yikes), before being wisely allowed to play out the dog days a level down with Williamsport. That WIL campaign was the last time he’s held a walk rate of 7.0% or higher, so don’t expect him to add much to his offense with his eyes. In 2012, Franco played the South Atlantic League at a still-very-young 19 years old, and held his own after a slow start. He finished the year with 14 home runs in what is traditionally a pitcher’s environment, and a 112 wRC+
2013 saw Franco breakout nationally. He split his time evenly between Hi-A Clearwater and AA Reading, and OPSed .925 and .926 respectively, with 31 combined homers and over 100 RBI, (if that sort of thing floats your boat). He was featured in many Top 100 prospect lists that offseason, and entered 2014 with expectations he would fail to meet for much of the year at AAA. His first half at Lehigh Valley was dreadful, and some continued to question whether his swing was too long, or whether he had good enough pitch recognition to make his fine bat speed play at the next level. As he did two years earlier, Franco turned it on as the weather warmed up, and he finished just a hair off the league average with a 97 wRC+, with 16 HR in 556 PAs. He was rewarded for his successful second half with a September call-up to Philadelphia, where he struggled in 58 PAs.
This year, Franco’s been swinging a hot stick at AAA as mentioned above. He’s also stolen two bases, which is absolutely absurd for a guy who has only ever been called more than a 20 grade runner by people who don’t own stopwatches. Reportedly he’s a little faster once he’s underway, but then again, aren’t we all. Ok, I’m not. I tire quickly. But I’m considerably older than him, so I’m ok with it.
So what should we expect from Franco tonight and throughout the season? I’m expecting a slow start, as has been his M.O. at a couple of his recent promotion stops. But he has seen this level of pitching, and he’s been hitting well coming into it, so who knows? He could come out hitting. As for his defense, “better than Cody Asche” is certainly apt, if not a terribly high bar at this point in Asche’s development. I’ve seen a couple of very nice plays by Franco that have made me think he’s got the arm and the body control to make a play out of most any ball he gets too, but his range is limited by his foot speed.
Either way, I’m pretty excited to see how the young man handles himself. He will he be the 13th youngest player to see the big leagues this year, so I’m not expecting him to take every failure like a seasoned veteran, but with any luck, his next success won’t be too far down the road.
For a full scouting opinion on Franco, I recommend checking out his PhilliesMinorThoughts.com profile page.