2015 Phillies Report Card: Maikel Franco
Those of us who really dig deep into Phillies prospects every year have been in on Maikel Franco for a long time. He exploded onto the national scene with a huge 2013 that included half seasons in Clearwater and Reading, but anyone paying attention in 2012 saw the signs of that leap forward. Franco had a dismal first half of the year at Low-A Lakewood, then turned it on and finished strong. The same thing happened in 2014, as Franco struggled mightily early at Lehigh Valley before mashing his way through the second half of that season, (though he mostly crashed throughout a September callup).
In 2015, he returned to Lehigh Valley and picked up where he left off, OPSing .923 – just about in line with his breakout 2013 season total of .926. Franco was finally recalled on May 15, which, coincidentally I’m sure, ensures he won’t reach Super 2 Arbitration status* by the end of 2017 season. Definitely a coincidence. (Y’all should see the naughty gesture I just made). He didn’t disappoint in his first extended look in the majors, as he put up .360 wOBA and a 128 wRC+ for the year. He OPSed .840 and cracked 14 home runs in an injury-shortened 335 PA season, but possibly more impressive was his patience at the plate. He drew exactly half as many walks as he took strikeouts, and at a decent rate. Franco’s not been big on walks in the high minors, he put up no higher than a 5.4% walk rate in any AA or higher season or partial season. And so his 2015 MLB walk rate of 7.8% is a nice step forward, if he can sustain it.
*(A correction here: it’s the extra year of club control that was at issue here, not Super 2 status – thanks to commenter Timber for bringing that up).
To my eyes, Franco played adequate but far from stellar defense, (metrics are still in small sample range, but they did not like his defense very much at all). He made a few throws that compare favorably to just about anyone in the league, but his range is suspect. We’ll see if the condition of the big league roster going forward allows for leeway, but if there’s a decent replacement for him at third base at any point, be it from free agency or from within, I won’t be surprised to see a move to first made immediately.
Franco’s biggest moment of the year came in a visit to Yankee Stadium, where over two games in late June, he was 6-10 with a double, three homers, five runs scored and ten driven in. Not since the great John Mayberry Jr. has a Phillie so announced himself in The Bronx. (FTR, I did not get through writing that sentence with a straight face). And as was widely mentioned then and confirmed by the player to New York media, Franco almost signed with The Bombers in 2010, but they fell $5k short of the Phils’ $100k offer. Either amount would seem like a steal now, after seeing the value Franco has provided and remains likely to provide going forward.
When reviewing Franco’s 2014 and deciding where to rank him and Aaron Nola, I really fixated on that successful second half. I was one of the only people to publish a Phils’ Top Prospect list with Maikel Franco ahead of Aaron Nola, (fair chance there were others, but notably Baseball America’s Matt Eddy, who had Franco at #41 in his BA Prospect Handbook Top 50, but left Nola off completely). After Franco’s rookie campaign, and even if Nola eventually trumps Franco in value and I am proven “wrong”, it’s clear that Franco deserved to be in the conversation behind J.P. Crawford, and he deserves to be in the conversation when discussing the cornerstones of any successful future Phillies team.
Also, his hair is fucking boss.