Analysis

Is Maikel Franco a ‘core’ piece of the future?

What if I told you that Maikel Franco‘s numbers were similar to perennial four-time afrancoll star and division rival Bryce Harper? You would probably tell yourself, “Wow, Franco has arrived. Why wasn’t he an all star?” That’s what I would ask myself.

But, in essence, Harper was pedestrian at best this season, and made his fourth All Star Game solely on popularity. Which would mean Franco was pedestrian as well this season.

Franco showed tremendous promise in 2015 before a wrist injury ended his season prematurely in mid-August (until he came back for the final series and bashed one more home run). The right-handed swinger tallied slash line of .280/.339/.497 and included 14 home runs, 50 RBIs, and 22 doubles in 80 games. Maybe not all star expectations just yet, but we were expecting to see Franco come into his own this season.

Did it happen? Eh, not really, although the numbers shouldn’t tell the full story. Franco’s slash line this season read as .255/.306/.427 – down in all categories. The third baseman belted 25 home runs, drove in 88, and mustered just 23 doubles in 150 games this season.

Ryan Lawrence of Philly Voice introduced the idea of the Phillies pursuing Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner once free agency opens. If the Phils were to sign Turner, what does that mean for Franco?

Maybe it’s time to assess whether Franco should be looked at as a true “core” piece.

But let’s say it flat out: It remains to be seen whether Franco is a building block. As I said earlier, he was expected to come into his own this season, but that didn’t really come into fruition, at least the way we would have liked.

But why should slash lines tell the full story? In what was the worst offense in the league, Franco still managed 25 home runs and 88 RBI – in which both categories placed him in the top-25 of the National League. That’s not bad for a team that came in last place in runs and second-to-last in on-base percentage. Let’s see what happens when the Phillies start addressing their needs in the outfield. Maybe Tommy Joseph can give Franco some protection out of the cleanup spot or five-hole. The Dominican native needs more around him to take some of the pressure off. Once the Phils have some capable hitters in the lineup who are legitimate threats, Franco’s numbers should blossom.

Are there things Franco can improve while the Phils are addressing some of their needs? Absolutely. For one, he lacked patience at the dish in 2016. He ranked third in the league in fewest pitches seen per at-bat at 3.57. There’s nothing wrong with a free-swinger, but frequently Franco seemed to exhibit no approach (or his approach was to yank the ball over the scoreboard in left). The right-handed slugger also has to learn that there’s nothing wrong with a single to the opposite field. He pulled 46 percent of his batted balls and went the other way on just 20 percent. For comparison, Turner pulls just 35 percent of the time and goes the opposite way 31 percent of the time. Franco probably won’t be winning any batting titles during his career, but a concerted effort to go the opposite field just a little bit more could go a long way in his development.

A signing of Justin Turner would push Franco off third base, and the only spot he’d be capable of playing is first base. Once again, Joseph’s playing time would be cut, and he deserves a “let him play” year where he trots out to first base at least 130 times.

A Turner signing honestly doesn’t make much sense. Yes, he may be an upgrade, but he doesn’t need to be taking playing time away from Franco and Joseph. The biggest need the Phils have is in the outfield. Let Franco and Joseph be.

Maikel Franco has certainly showcased star talent over the last two seasons. There’s no question he has the tools. Put some guys around him that can get on base and that you have to pitch to, and you could be looking a 30+ home runs and 110 RBI out of your third baseman.

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