Maikel Franco: Let’s Try This Again

So last week I talked about finding the next Maikel Franco, a player whose hype has outstripped his value.  Sometimes guys bust, other times they do exactly what a prospect is supposed to do, they make adjustments and improve.  That is what is happening with Maikel Franco right in front us.  There is still a lot of growth to go, which gives us a buying opportunity because his value is still depressed.

2014 Recap:

Lets start with that AAA line:

133 Games 556 PAs 16 HRs 3 SB .257/.299/.428 5.4% BB% 14.6% K % .276 BABIP

However after the AAA All-Star Game he hit .309/.326/551 over 46 Games with 10 HRs.  It wan’t just the triple slash line that improved, here is how his batted ball data changed:

April-June 48.6 22.9 15.8 12.7 7.0 15.5
July-August 44.6 25.0 22.3 8.2 3.1 13.3

The walk and strikeout rate correspond to what was a change in approach where Franco was looking to lay off balls and attack better pitches for him to hit.  The problem during the first half had been him hacking away and running into a lot of bad contact and deep counts with foul balls.  The next step is working to take the walk when pitchers stay away from him.  However, don’t expect a high walk rate from him in his career, but it should correspond to a better batting average than the raw hit tool deserves.

On top of the second half surge the other thing to look at with Franco’s numbers is his home/road splits:

Home: 66 Games 253 ABs 8 HRs .237/.278/.391
Away: 67 Games 268 ABs 8 HRs .276/.318/.463

In 2013 the Lehigh Valley Ironpigs’ (the Phillies AAA affiliate) home park, Coca-Cola Park was the third worst run scoring environment in the International League.  For reference the average R/G in the International League in 2014 was 4.36 runs /G whereas in the Pacific League it was 5.03 runs/G.  Coca-Cola Park is also the third worst park in the IL to hit HRs in and 4th worst for hits as well.  Citizen’s Bank Park plummeted in park factors this year (fell from 6 to 24 in runs scored).  However, it was first in HRs in 2013 and was 6th in 2014, so for power Franco will be playing in favorable ball park.

Major League Opportunity:

Last year one of the disappointments with Franco was his lack of major league playing time.  That is not a problem coming into 2015.  The Phillies are committed to Franco at the major league level going forward.  At minimum his role will be to start in a third base platoon with Cody Asche.  This is not necessarily the news you want to hear as a Franco owner, but in 2014 even with his struggles in AAA he still hit .270/.316/.432 with 5 HRs in 148 ABs against LHPs in 2014.  Ideally the Phillies would like for Franco to play everyday, but it is dependent on the Phillies moving first baseman Ryan Howard and his monstrous contract.  Either way Franco should be in a position with the Phillies in full rebuild to have his playing time gradually increase over the course of the year.

Speaking of Ryan Howard, the Phillies have not decided whether Franco is first baseman or third baseman long term.  His glove can certainly play at the hot corner right now (not Gold Glove caliber, but solid), it is more a matter of getting his bat in the lineup.  If he doesn’t already have dual eligibility he should acquire it fairly quickly in 2015.  The bar for offense at third base is certainly lower in fantasy, but given the platoon potential the added positional flexibility is a nice little boost in a deeper league.

Perfect Fit For Fantasy:

In his Fantasy Take for the Phillies Top 10 on Baseball Prospectus Bret Sayre summed up Franco the fantasy player perfectly

Some players are just built for standard 5×5 roto leagues, and Franco is one of them.

Franco may not be a 5 category contributor but he is built for 3 of them.  The hit tool is a worry for real life purposes, but he puts enough balls in play he should be .260-.270 hitter fairly shortly.  If the average and playing time is there he could fairly easily run into 20 HRs in 2015.  If the Phillies sign Yasmany Tomas and keep Carlos Ruiz, Chase Utley, and Ben Revere, there should be plenty of bodies on base for him to drive in.  The runs may not be there due to the OBP issues and the weakness of the lineup around him.

Its going to be up and down.  The key with Franco is going to be riding the streaks.  His game is based on seeing the ball well and turning it into quality contact.  Watch his FB% and GB%, when he is flailing you are going to see a lot of weak ground balls pulled to the left side of the infield, when he is elevating ball he can tap into the raw power.  He is

When to Buy:

Franco’s value is relatively stable right now, he is firmly cemented as the #3 prospect in the Phillies system, however this is where the rankings come in.  There are two factors this offseason to watch for his value.

  1. Top 100 Placement: Last year it was his #17 Ranking by Baseball America that sent everyone into a craze.  He should rank much lower on real life lists this year, some of it is due to the weaknesses, some of it is disappointment and prospect fatigue.  In the past John Sickels and Baseball America have been higher on him, and ESPN (Keith Law) and Baseball Prospectus have been lower.
  2. Cole Hamels Trade: Any trade the Phillies make for Cole Hamels is going to involve prospects better than Maikel Franco.  If he is pushed down the 4th or 5th prospect in the Phillies system he loses more shine.  The more trades and shiny things the Phillies bring (Tomas would count here), the lower Franco’s value this offseason because of where he will sit on lists.

Using all this you can put yourself in position to buy low on a player who was one of the top fantasy prospects a year ago.

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Matt Winkelman

Matt Winkelman

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