Thursday, March 20, 2014

Prospect Nation 2014: #1 3B Maikel Franco

Franco (center) keeps things loose with teammates, Image- Jay Floyd
Since he arrived in North America, third baseman Maikel Franco has put his skills with the bat on display. An outstanding offensive campaign last year made him the buzz name in the Phillies' organization and has landed him in the top spot among the club's promising crop of upcoming prospects.

Signed as an amateur free agent by the Phillies in 2010, Franco would make his professional debut with the rookie level Gulf Coast League Phillies that same year. As a 17-year-old, he posted respectable numbers, with a line of .222/.292/.330 in 51 games.

A year later, the righty hitting Franco began the season in extended spring training and later competed with the Class A short-season Williamsport Crosscutters. Franco looked great against New York-Penn League competition, posting a .274/.339/.389 line while driving in 28 runs in 42 games before earning a promotion to Class A Lakewood.

In the South Atlantic League, at the age of 18, the baby-faced Franco struggled quite a bit. In 17 contests for the BlueClaws, Franco went 8-for-67 (.123 avg) and racked up an awful .349 OPS. The Phillies realized Franco was over-matched and that he was growing discouraged, so he was re-assigned back to Williamsport, where he finished the season by batting .333 with seven extra-base hits and 10 RBI over his final 13 games with the Crosscutters.

In 2012, Franco returned to Lakewood, showing much improvement throughout the season. Franco began the year at somewhat of a slow pace, batting just .207 with six homers, 27 RBI and a .607 OPS before he heated things up after the South Atlantic League All-Star break. In the second half of the season, Franco really showed what he can do, tallying a .346 average with eight home runs, 57 RBI, which were tops in the league during that stretch, and a .925 OPS.

Last year, Franco opening the season with Class A Advanced Clearwater. In 65 contests in the Florida State League, the youngster sported a .299 average with 16 homers and 52 RBI. In early June, he was promoted to Double-A Reading and continued on his torrid pace in the Eastern League. As a member of the Fightins, Franco batted .339 with 15 home runs and 51 RBI in 69 games.
The thing that stands out most about Franco is his power. He has a swing that's often described as long, but his quick hands blaze through the zone and drive the ball great distances. His six-foot-one 190-pound frame will continue to mature and so will the pop in his bat.

Speed is not a weapon for the young Dominican, as he has swiped just four bases in his pro career.

Defensively, Franco glides to the ball and has great range with a strong arm. He often looks like a natural at third base. In the second half of last season, the Phils tried Franco at first base. He continued playing there with the Gigantes in the Dominican Winter League and has spent some time there this spring as well. More reps at first will be required for him to get used to the new position, if needed, but Franco's versatility can only benefit him as he tries to break into the big leagues.

Franco, who has a terrific work ethic, is steadily focused on improving. He seeks advice and insight from teammates as well as coaches to absorb as much as he can. Franco loves the game and is willing to put in the work it takes to play at the highest level. Having played in 15 games with the big league team thus far this spring, Franco has gotten plenty of opportunities to add to his knowledge base.

It's safe to say that naming Maikel Franco as the Phillies' top prospect is unanimous across all reputable outlets. Scouts and writers alike feel that the 21-year-old could be ready for a 2014 big league debut. Look for Franco to begin the season with either Double-A Reading or Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Click here to view the running list of this year's countdown.



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