Maikel Franco was hitting .355 in 33 games for triple-A Lehigh Valley in 2015. He was ready for the show. When he was called up, he immediately burst onto the scene. Forty games into Franco’s rookie season, he was above .300 with 10 home runs and 29 runs batted in. Don’t forget how bad that Phillies team was, too.
Franco injured his wrist, sidelining him 51 games. The 24-year-old wouldn’t have won the rookie of the year (because Kris Bryant did), but he would’ve at least placed in the voting. He finished with a consistent .280 average with 14 home runs and 50 RBI in 80 games. It looked like Franco was just scratching the surface. “Look out for this guy next year,” we said.
Well, last year came and went, and we didn’t get the Maikel Franco we expected. He became more of a streaky hitter, often digging himself out of prolonged slumps, and the slumps didn’t look pretty, either. He finished last year hitting just .255, an average below expectations. His strikeout rate was higher. He hit into far more weak outs.
This year has been one prolonged slump; he’s hitting .209 with just 12 extra-base hits in 46 games. Often uncomfortable, Franco looks lost at the plate, pulling off pitches and flailing away with his helmet flying off his head. But he’s not the only one.
In the midst of Franco’s regression, he’s a part of a lifeless Phillies squad that has lost 23 of 29 games and now finds themselves in the basement of the majorleagues. Something needs to happen. That something should be demoting Maikel Franco.
The Phils weren’t on anyone’s radar to make the playoffs this season. In that case, player development became the top priority. And even though the playoffs weren’t likely, the product on the field these last 29 games has been unacceptable. The lack of competition at the plate and the defeated attitude is beyond a “timeout” for a few games.
Demoting a player of Franco’s (potential) caliber will send shockwaves around the clubhouse. It’ll let the players know that no one is safe. The sense of urgency around the ballpark would increase dramatically, especially for the young players.
While it could be good for the team, it could serve Franco even better. Sending him down would take the pressure off him. He can go down and concentrate on his approach and swing – results won’t be as important. And there is precedent; Roy Halladay was once sent down in Toronto. Cliff Lee in Cleveland. We know those guys.
At this point, it’s becoming a lost year for the Phils and Franco, and it can’t get any lower. We could be looking back in 10 years and thinking the five- or six-week demotion of tough love Franco took in stride was the best aspect of his development. It’s still early enough – in the season and Franco’s career – that he can come back from this. He wouldn’t be the first.