Two months ago, Phillies third base prospect Maikel Franco appeared more likely to receive an assignment to rookie ball than a major league promotion. The 21 year old Iron Pig had been overmatched by Triple-A pitching through the end of June, hitting .209 with just five home runs in 302 at bats.
Then the calendar turned to July and Franco into the second coming of Mike Schmidt. Now, after he hit for the cycle and drove in three runs in a Saturday night victory over Syracuse, Philadelphia is considering promoting their third best prospect come September 1st.
It all started with an infield single. Nothing really, a little dribbler that the opposing pitcher, Taylor Hill, couldn’t handle in time. But another single followed that, and another, and another, and by the end of that July 2nd contest against Syracuse, Franco was a 4-4 with 4 runs scored.
He had had just one hit in his previous 15 at bats, a .362 OPS in his previous 37, but that performance became a trigger to something greater. The Iron Pigs then travelled to Rochester for a July 4th game against the Red Wings and Franco flexed his famed extra base muscle, collecting a double and a triple in five at bats. By the 5th, Franco, who knocked out 31 home runs in 2013, was leaving the yard again.
The hot streak hasn’t stopped. With his Monday night home run against Syracuse, Franco pushed his total to 10 since that July 2nd contest, over which time he has also has hit .329 and slugged .590. As abysmal as his early season numbers, he has managed to restore his season line to a respectable .256/.296/.425.
Success of this magnitude is nothing new for Franco, who hit .320 and belted out 31 home runs and 36 doubles between High and Double-A in 2013. That performance prompted Baseball America to rank him as the 17th best prospect in baseball.
That affinity for the long ball has always been Franco’s calling card. According to the prospect guide compiled by MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis, the relatively small-statured slugger – he stands just 6’1, 180 pounds, – has 70 power on the 20-80 scouting scale. That’s noteworthy; only five other players in their top 100 earned a grade of 70 or above in that department, and all of them rank among the top 10 prospects in the game.
With strength of that magnitude, displacing incumbent third baseman Cody Asche, who owns just a .386 slugging percentage (and for that matter, an equally dismal .303 on base percentage) over 537 plate appearances, would appear to be of little difficulty. But Franco has warts too, warts that could become big, brown, and ugly when exposed to harsh major league environments.
He does not walk. That is neither typo nor hyperbole. Maikel Franco has not drawn a base on balls in August, a feat accomplished by precisely zero everyday major league hitters. In fact, over 201 plate appearances since July 2nd, he has drawn just 5 walks, for a rate of 2.5 percent. The major league average is 7.8% and Franco’s future teammate, Phillies center-fielder Ben Revere, is the only qualified player to post a percentage below 2.5.
Franco could have the swing and power of Mike Schmidt - he doesn’t – but unless he garners a fraction of his batting eye, no major league pitcher is going to throw him a strike. If he develops that plate discipline though, or if an opposing pitcher just makes a mistake over the pate, he could make cozy Citizens Bank Park look awfully small, awfully quickly.
Perhaps as soon as September 1st.
Tags: Cody Asche