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Maikel Franco: High Bust Potential

As the Phillies' roster continues to age, it's becoming increasingly important that Maikel Franco develops into an impact bat. But will he?

Marc Serota

It’s no secret that the Philadelphia Phillies are in no man’s land. The club’s coming off back-to-back 73-win seasons. The roster is littered with aging veterans -- just three players under the age of 30 received at least 138 plate appearances and only one starter under the age of 29 made more than nine starts. More than $130 million is already committed to the 2015 payroll and another $76 million in 2016. And, of course, the organization’s lifeblood -- the farm system -- is middling at best.

And things won't get any rosier if they pin their hopes on the team’s second-best minor league bat either.

Originally signed by the Phillies in 2010, Maikel Franco had a coming-out party of sorts in 2013. Split between the Florida State and Eastern leagues, the third baseman hit .320/.356/.569 with a combined 70 extra-base hits en route to posting an absurd 156 wRC+. At age 20.

That production pushed him into the upper echelon of prospects according to pretty much every reputable baseball site. The Phillies had seemingly answered their long term questions at the hot corner -- except Franco stumbled mightily in his first go-round in AAA this season, as he hit a meager .250/.288/.407 while seeing his home run total nearly halved from the previous season.

While much of his future remains a bit cloudy, CAL – the player classification system I developed – has never been a fan of Franco’s, even following his Ruth-ian assault on minor league pitching two years ago.

In a nutshell, CAL, or Comparison And Likeness, uses a player’s last three minor league stops (200+ plate appearances) and roots through a database to find similar players using a variety of differently weighted metrics. As I’ve chronicled here before, CAL has been able to sniff out some of the game’s bigger busts over the last eight seasons. And the system lumps Franco into that group too.

First, here’s a look at Franco’s top CALs following this season, his age-21 season:

Age: 21
Wilmer Flores
Josh Vitters
Mike Moustakas
Blake Dewitt
Lonnie Chisenhall

It’s an uninspiring collection of offensive disappointments. Vitters, a former #3 overall pick, is one of the bigger draft busts in recent memory; Moustakas is a .236/.290/.379 hitter in nearly 2000 career plate appearances; DeWitt owns a career 87 wRC+; and Chisenhall looked like he was finally developing into a serviceable big league bat this season, but promptly hit a Moustakas-esque .227/.299/.331 over his last 352 plate appearances. Flores remains an unproven commodity, but owns a 78 wRC+ in brief stints in New York.

Obviously, it’s not an encouraging group to be linked with. But look whom Franco’s lumped in with following his breakout year in 2013:

Age: 20
Wilmer Flores
Josh Vitters
Aderlin Rodriguez
Nolan Arenado
Mike Moustakas

Flores, Vitters, and Moustakas are repeats. Rodriguez is nothing more than an org bat in the Mets’ system. And the lone hope is Arenado, a budding All-Star.

Let’s take it a step further and look at his top CALs through his age-19 and -18 seasons, as well:

Age: 19
Jeimer Candelario
Carson Kelly
Janluis Castro
Michael Almanzar
Avery Romero

Age: 18
Brian Schales
Austin Anderson
Jomar Reyes
Hyeong-rok Choi
Carson Kelly

Again, this isn’t just comparing one season of Franco’s career with players of a similar age; CAL looks at a player’s last three minor league stops for the comparison. And let’s just say it’s a very, very underwhelming collection of bats.

In fact, just one of his top CALs (Arenado) looks like a potential above-average big league bat; another (Chisenhall) has flashed extended glimpses and owns a career 104 wRC+; and, well, that’s it.

As for his minor league production, Franco had one truly dominant year – 2013 – and the rest have merely fallen into the good/not great category. And while he’s been young for each level, outside of two years ago his power has been average-ish, the hit tool hasn’t been any special, and the walk rates are slightly below average.

So, like Matt Davidson, whom I profiled here two weeks ago, the odds don’t seem to be in Franco’s future that he develops into an impact, middle-of-the-lineup bat. That doesn’t bode well for the Phillies’ future aspirations.

. . .

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.

For more analysis check out Joe Werner's site: ProspectDigest.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @JoltinJoey.