To say that Maikel Franco has had a a roller-coaster 2019 season would probably be an understatement.
The 26-year-old homered three times in the first four games of the 2019 season, prompting some to wonder if the Phillies would have a historic offense and the Phillies Twitter account to dub him “the greatest No. 8 hitter in baseball.”
By mid-June, Franco’s bat had gone so cold – he hit .170 in 88 at-bats in May – that he didn’t play (or even appear) in either game of the Phillies doubleheader at Nationals Park on June 19. The Phillies weren’t exactly scorching-hot offensively at that time, they recorded just 10 hits across the double-header, which they were swept in.
But since not playing in either game of the double-header, Franco has hit .310 with six home runs – including a walk-0ff home run on July 14 against the Nationals – in 88 at-bats. That’s seemingly a fantastic development, both for Franco and the Phillies. But his most memorable moment over that same stretch may have been when some thought he failed to hustle out a ground ball that Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Truner threw slightly offline to first base. Instead of beating the ball out, Franco, one of the league’s slower position players, was thrown out, leaving the bases loaded in a game the Phillies were winning 1-0 at that time. They would go on the lose 16-2.
So, yeah, it’s been a strange season for the 26-year-old third baseman.
Not only is Franco difficult for baseball observers to evaluate, but the Phillies, who he’s played for semi-regularly since May of 2015, apparently are still having trouble gauging exactly what Franco is as a player.
Anthony DiComo of MLB.com spoke to an anonymous National League executive about who the Phillies could potentially use as a trade chip. The executive suggested Franco, but also said “They keep changing their mind on Maikel Franco, for example, but they’ve talked about Franco for bullpen help a whole bunch of times for a couple of years now.”
It’s worth adding a couple caveats to this analysis. First, Franco is hitting .235 in 2019. If he’s used in any trade it won’t be as the front-line piece in a blockbuster deal, such as one for Zack Greinke or Matthew Boyd. Secondly, it’s possible that this unnamed National League executive is frustrated that the Phillies haven’t moved Franco – who a team could certainly have interest in trying to get to click in their organization – to the team he or she is helping run. Still, it stands to reason that Franco has fallen out of favor and then found his way back into the Phillies plans, at least in the short-term, a few times.
Franco’s biggest problem offensively remains that he puts the ball on the ground far too much for someone with slow feet. In 2019, 44.6 percent of the balls he’s hit have been ground balls. That’s actually down from 49.2 percent, the career-high that he posted in 2018. Still, 44.6 percent is far too high of a mark. Reasonable people can disagree about how much of a focus that hitters should have on launch angle, but New York Mets catcher Wilson Ramos may be the only position player in the league that runs slower than Franco, so hitting the ball on the ground isn’t a good formula for him.
Still, Franco has 15 home runs and 46 RBIs in just over 300 at-bats in 2019. His hard contact percentage currently sits at 33.7 percent, which would be a career-high. There are things about Franco that still tantalize you, even as he’s pushing half a decade in the majors.
Additionally, he normally passes the eye test defensively, and sometimes does even more than that. He has one of the stronger throwing arms among third baseman and is pretty sure-handed. There are some defensive metrics that suggest he’s improved rather dramatically defensively this season. A year ago, Franco posted -12 defensive runs saved, but he currently has one defensive run saved in 2019. He made 15 errors in each of the last two seasons, but he has just five in 2019. Franco doesn’t grade out impressively in terms of his range – he’s 13th among all qualified third basemen in range runs. Despite that, FanGraphs says that he’s been the fifth best defensive third baseman in 2019, a year after he graded out as the 17th best defensive third baseman.
There’s little to debate to be had about whether Franco has worked his ass off to become a more complete player. But at a certain point, consistent results are all that matters for a contending team. Franco has been the opposite of predictable in his career.
It is time to reset on the analysis of Franco to a degree; no longer is the debate about whether he’ll be a franchise cornerstone. Instead the debate is whether Franco is the Phillies best option at third base for the rest of the 2019 season, and likely to open the 2020 season before No. 1 prospect Alec Bohm ultimately takes over as the starter, likely next summer. It’s also fair to wonder if the value the Phillies will get out of Franco between now and Bohm taking over is more valuable than what could be acquired using him in a trade. Once Bohm takes over at third base, Franco will likely become primarily a pinch-hitter with Rhys Hoskins entrenched at first base.
The next week could give an indication of what Franco’s future in the organization may be. But if general manager Matt Klentak’s front office is still undecided on Franco, at least with adjusted expectations, there’s ample reason for them to feel that way.
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