Entering the 2018 season the future was beginning to get a bit hazy for Maikel Franco. That future as far as the Philadelphia Phillies were concerned was beginning to get even hazier as the first two months unfolded, and the summer arrived.
On June 20, Franco suffered through an 0-4 performance during a game against the Saint Louis Cardinals. That o-fer was just the latest in a season that was getting away from the 25-year-old third baseman.
At that point, Franco was sporting a .240/.284/.409 slash line with just 16 extra-base hits over his first 225 plate appearances. He was playing uninspired defense. In fact, he had already lost playing time with J.P. Crawford making eight June starts at the hot corner.
But then on June 19, Crawford was hit by a pitch from Cardinals pitcher Luke Weaver. That pitch broke a bone in Crawford’s right hand, leading to a nearly two-month stint on the disabled list. It also led to a second chance for Franco.
Though he took that 0-4 collar in his first game back as the everyday starter, Franco would make the most of his second chance. The next night in Washington, Franco produced a four-hit night, and was on his way to securing his position as the Phillies starter at the hot corner.
Over his last 47 games, 44 of those starts, Franco has slashed .327/.369/.577 and has banged 11 home runs and nine doubles. On July 23 against the Los Angeles Dodgers he blasted two homers. Three days later on July 26 in Cincinnati, he repeated that feat against the host Reds.
In an August 2 game at Citizens Bank Park against the Miami Marlins, the Phillies rallied to tie the game at 2-2 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. Then with two runners on base, Franco stepped to the plate and delivered an emotional walk off three-run home run, punctuating his blast with one of the most emotional bat flips in baseball history.
In yesterday’s doubleheader split with the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park, Franco continued his solid hitting. He went 3-8 with a home run in the opener, then contributed a double in the second game victory.
A month into his rebirth, Franco was quoted by Rob Parent of the Delaware County Daily Times:
“I know my game plan isn’t different now, when I go out and play defense and my offense, too, when I go to the box. I just want to keep working hard…and do everything I can do for my team..I know the last couple of years here I did not do what everybody expect or what I expect. I’m just trying to forget that…I’m just trying to get better and better every single day.”
In addition to his offensive breakout, which has also included 25 RBI, Franco has stepped up his defensive game with numerous fielding gems. Following a recent strong performance, manager Gabe Kapler was quoted by Jon Marks for Metro Philadelphia:
“Just a reminder things can turn around fast. In the span of a month, you can go from a guy who’s having a hard time staying in the lineup every day, to a guy you legitimately cannot take out of the lineup for any reason.”
Crawford was activated from the disabled list earlier this week and sent down to AAA Lehigh Valley. There he will get the playing time and at-bats needed to regain his timing and form in the hopes of helping the Phillies secure a postseason berth during September.
With the IronPigs, Crawford will be playing at his natural shortstop position. With Franco now firmly entrenched at third base, that is where the future lies for Crawford.
The Phillies recently traded for veteran shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. So barring injuries, when Crawford does return he will be mostly coming off the bench as a defensive replacement, as well as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner.
When the off-season rolls around, things get murkier on the left side of the infield. Cabrera will turn 33-years-old in November and will become a free agent as well. It is unlikely that the Phillies will be bringing him back for 2019.
Will the club go hard for Manny Machado, who has made it clear that he wants to play shortstop? If the Phillies are able to lure the perennial all-star, that would likely turn Crawford into trade bait.
Franco is arbitration eligible in 2019. He cannot become a free agent until after the 2021 season. The Phillies have a large amount of control over him for the next three years. Those three years will take Franco, who turns 26 at the end of this month, through his age 29 season.
What Franco has demonstrated over these last two months is that he is not only the present for the Phillies at third base, but also their future at the position. With third base now locked down, the club can turn to other positions of need in the knowledge that the hot corner is in good hands.
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