Wednesday, April 5, 2017

2017 Phillies Spotlight Hitter: Maikel Franco

In many ways it was a rewarding 2017 Opening Day performance for the Philadelphia Phillies and third baseman Maikel Franco.
The team came out on the winning end of a 4-3 score at Great American Ball Park against the host Reds on Monday afternoon. Franco contributed with a hit, a walk and a run scored.
But in another way, Franco’s performance was a bit of a letdown. As the Phillies’ cleanup hitter, he is expected to drive in runs. On Monday afternoon, Franco left four runners on base.
It’s only one game. Franco could well prove to be the big-time run producer that the club needs him to become. And make no mistake, they do need him to realize all of his vast potential.
If he doesn’t, if Franco is only a marginal player with some pop, it would be a setback to the Phillies’ carefully planned rebuilding program.

FRANCO TO THE PHILLIES

The Phillies first signed Franco as a 17-year-old free agent out of the Dominican Republic in January of 2010. He began emerging in the system when he banged 14 homers and drove in 84 runs in the 2012 season at Low-A Lakewood.
The following year of 2013 was split evenly between High-A Clearwater and AA Reading. At those two stops combined, Franco truly broke out as an elite prospect. He crushed 31 home runs, drove in 103 and hit for a .320/.356/.569 slash line while shooting up national prospect rankings.
His 2014 campaign at AAA Lehigh Valley was a bit more challenging, but resulted in a September cup of coffee in the big leagues. Franco hit just .179 with five RBI over his first 58 plate appearances with the Phillies, but he had gotten his feet wet.
After beginning 2015 back in AAA, the highly anticipated prospect finally reached the majors for good with a mid-May promotion to Philadelphia.

A DISAPPOINTING 2016

Though he lost most of the final two months to injury, Franco showed in 2015 that he belonged. He hit 14 homers and knocked in 50 runs and hit .280 over 335 plate appearances.
Hopes were high a year ago that Franco might emerge as an NL All-Star. Franco would hit 25 homers and knock in 88 runs. But he also hit for just a .255/.306/.427 slash. It was a fairly disappointing season for the 24-year-old.
Among those disappointed in Franco’s 2016 performance was none other than the Phillies’ legendary Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt.
I was disappointed. I had a lot higher expectations for Maikel,” Schmidt said, per MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki.
“If I was mentoring Maikel Franco right now, I would say, ‘Son, we’re going to be the MVP. And nothing is going to stop us but an injury.” – Schmidt, per Zolecki
Franco is still young, he will turn 25 years old as this coming summer winds to an end in late August. If he is to become a star-caliber player, and not just a “nice little player,” now is the time.

TIME FOR A BREAKOUT

The 2017 season needs to be a true big league breakout for Franco. He needs to stay healthy, and step up to that 30+ homer, 100+ RBI threat in the middle of the Phillies’ batting order.
Franco also needs to demonstrate more consistency, hitting closer to his .280 career minor league average than the .258 big league mark that he has produced to this point.
The jury is still very much out on whether or not Maikel Franco can be a legitimate cleanup hitter for a contending team. That is what the Phillies hope to become over the next couple of seasons. It will be far more difficult a challenge if Franco doesn’t step up to the next level.
And if Franco cannot take that next step, he may be headed out of town eventually, or find himself switching positions. After next season, Manny Machado is scheduled to become a free agent. A deep-pocketed Phillies team will have tons of cash to spend at that point.

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