By Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our 30 Players 30 Days spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
Maikel Franco, Third baseman, Philadelphia Phillies
2015 season (Minors): 91 G, 357 AB, .297 BA, 12 HR, 51 RBI, 1 SB, .854 OPS
2015 season (Majors): 56 G, 174 AB, .270 BA, 9 HR, 26 RBI, 0 SB, .841 OPS
Phillies fans have had a rough time the past few years, as the club clung to its past successes and held on to aging veterans for too long. While the 2015 team put up a miserable 63-99 record in the Phillies’ third straight losing season, there were at least some signs of hope for the future last year. The club traded away its stars of old (well, most of them, aside form the immovable object — Ryan Howard) and underwent a front office overhaul. But the biggest sign of hope for the Phillies was the emergence of Maikel Franco.
Franco signed with the Phillies as an International free agent out of the Dominican Republic as a 17-year-old in 2010. He first began his push towards the Majors in ‘12, his first full season in the Minors, where he posted a .280/.336/.439 line at Class A Lakewood as a 19-year-old. Franco then made a jump to Class A Advanced and Double-A in ‘13, and that’s the year where he staked his claim as one of the top prospects in the Phillies’ organization. At the two levels, Franco combined to hit 31 homers and 36 doubles. At Double-A, he posted an incredible slash line .339/.363/.563, and entering the ‘14 season he was ranked as one of the top hitting prospects in the game.
In 2014, Franco struggled a bit in the Minors, posting low contact, power and walk rates over 133 games. He joined the Phillies as a September callup that year, but didn’t show much in 58 plate appearances. Franco’s bullet train to the bigs had seemingly slowed, and he began 2015 at Triple-A. But this time, it clicked, and after hitting .355/.384/.539 in 33 games, the struggling Phillies made the call, and Franco hasn’t looked back.
Franco’s first season in the Majors was impressive in many ways, as he hit for a combination of power and average that is rare among hitters his age. According to Fangraphs, he was one of just seven hitters with 300-plus plate appearances who recorded an ISO (isolated power) number above .200 and a strikeout rate below 16 percent — putting him alongside hitters such as Jose Bautista, David Ortiz and Albert Pujols. His .217 ISO was fifth among rookies with at least 300 plate appearances and his K-rate of 15.5 percent ranked fourth.
Franco was hit by a pitch and suffered a fractured left wrist on Aug. 11, and his season was expected to be over. But Franco didn’t want to end with a bad taste in his mouth, and he managed to come back for the Phillies’ final series and record three hits and a home run.
Though his defense leaves a bit to be desired, he will probably move over to first base once Howard is no longer there. Where Franco shines brightest is at the plate, and he wasted no time this Spring Training reminding everyone of that when he hit two home runs in his first four games. Frangraphs’ Steamer projections have him hitting 23 homers with a.272/.315/.463 slash line in 130 games, and should he manage to play in close to 150 games, there’s no reason to believe he can’t push for the 30-homer plateau while also keeping his contact and walk rates high.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.