Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Maikel Franco's Return Begins the Phillies Rebuild in Earnest

All evidence points to the Phillies calling up 3rd baseman Maikel Franco this weekend. 
The team's #3 prospect, who received a taste of the big leagues last September, should be taking over the starting role at the hot corner for the forseeable future.
The team is in a very public rebuilding stage, one that will take at least 2-3 years just to begin getting off the ground. But make no mistake, the arrival of Franco is the very first major positional piece to the construction of the Phils' future lineup. 
GM Ruben Amaro, in his Tuesday radio interview with local sports talk WIP 94.1 FM, had this to say regarding Franco replacing Cody Asche:
"We view Maikel Franco as a better third baseman. And so, it was a good problem to have, it's problem that we're solving by moving him [Asche] to a different position, and I think that's going to bode well for the organization."
If all goes according to plan, Franco will man the left side of the Phillies infield for at least the next 6-7 years, with top prospect shortstop J.P. Crawford eventually playing alongside him. Crawford should arrive himself either late in the 2016 season, or certainly by the start of the 2017 campaign.
Other than those two, there is no one - not a single player or prospect - that anyone can predict will be a starting ball player on the next Phillies team that is moving towards contending status.
Could 23-year old Odubel Herrera be the center fielder of the future? Possibly. He is the centerfielder of the present at a young enough age, and seems to be getting better in the outfield with each passing week. He also seems to be a real offensive find, a true catalyst-type ballplayer, a bit in the Shane Victorino mold.
Three years from now, when the Fightin' Phils leap out of the dugout to take the field on Opening Day of the 2018 season, it is highly unlikely that any other position player currently on the active roster will be with the team in a starting role. 
Cameron Rupp (29), Freddy Galvis (28) and Cesar Hernandez (27) could possibly be around as reserves, as could Asche (27), due to their ages. I'm not a betting man, but if I were, I would bet that none of those four are still Phillies at that time.
The Phillies do have some talented pitchers in their minor leagues, at least a couple of whom should be on the mound in that 2018 season. 
Ken Giles is here now, and should be the closer. And at least 2-3 of the organizations starting arms need to have made their debuts and be ready to contribute fully by then from among a group that includes Aaron NolaZach EflinBen LivelyTom WindleMatt Imhof, and Jesse Biddle.
He doesn't need to do it right away, but Franco needs to develop into a consistent power threat, someone who can hit in the middle of the Phillies lineup as we move through the back half of this decade. 
He needs to show that he can at least come close to the numbers that he put up in his 2013 season, at least eventually, at the big league level.
In that 2013 campaign, split almost evenly between High-A Clearwater and AA Reading, Franco bashed 31 homers and drove in 103 runs. He hit for a .320/.356/.569 slash line as well as bashing 36 doubles, so it wasn't all longball power.
His power numbers fell to 16 homers and 78 rbi a year ago against the more advanced pitching he faced while with AAA Lehigh Valley, and his slash dropped to a pedestrian .257/.299/428 set. 
His brief 58 plate appearances introduction to Philly resulted in even worse .179/.190/.214 slash line numbers.
However, Franco has adjusted to that advanced pitching this season. Back with the AAA IronPigs, he has put up a .346/.364/.541 slash line. 
While his homerun and RBI totals put him roughly on pace with a repeat of the 2014 figures, he is on a pace for approximately 48 doubles.
In other words, Franco is hitting the ball much more consistently, and is hitting the ball hard. If he keeps that up here, it should play well in the friendly confines of Citizens Bank Park.
One thing that Franco will definitely bring is a strong defensive presence at 3rd base. He is a plus defender, with nice range and a strong, accurate arm. 
He may never be Mike Schmidt or Scott Rolen at the hot corner, but he does possess the skill set to be something just a notch below those two all-time defensive greats at the position.
Maikel Franco is not a savior. He is not going to turn around the fortunes of the franchise. What he very well could be, is a real piece to the longterm puzzle. 
The beginning of the rebuild, something tangible for fans to watch develop, and who they can invest in emotionally for not just 2015, but for years beyond.

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