Friday, February 20, 2015

Prospect Nation 2015: #3 3B/1B Maikel Franco

Maikel Franco, image- Jay Floyd
Despite a difficult stretch last season, corner infielder Maikel Franco remains as one of the Phillies' most promising prospects.

Signed as an amateur free agent by the Phillies out of the Dominican Republic 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 short-season A level 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 full season 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 extremely weak .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 at the plate, tallying a .346 average with eight home runs, 57 RBI, which were tops in the league during that stretch, and a .925 OPS.

The following season, Franco would open his campaign 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 homers and 51 RBI in 69 games.

In 2014, Franco moved up to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, where he struggled through the first three months of the season, batting .209 with 22 extra base hits in his first 78 games. Over the following 53 games, Franco, who credits IronPigs hitting coach Sal Rende with helping him turn things around, tallied a .324 average with 31 extra base hits.

His offensive about face earned him a promotion to the big leagues for the final few weeks of the regular season. In 16 games, Franco posted a .179 batting average with two doubles and five RBI.

This off-season, Franco looked very good with the Gigantes in the Dominican Winter League. After sporting a .272 average with eight doubles, seven home runs and 29 RBI in 38 games, Franco wrapped up the round robin postseason schedule with four home runs and 16 RBI to go along with his .337 average in 22 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.

Franco grew up admiring fellow Dominican native Adrian Beltre. Franco has a strong desire to follow in the four-time All-Star third baseman's footsteps. The ability to drive the ball and the raw skills are there to help him do so. He'll need to focus on maturing as a hitter and swinging at better pitches to really execute that wish.

With sub-5.5% walk rates in the minors in each of the past two seasons, the Phils would like to see Franco be a bit more selective at the plate.

Speed is not a weapon for the 22-year-old, as he has swiped just seven bases in his five pro seasons.

Defensively, Franco, who played shortstop as a youth prior to signing with the Phils, glides to the ball and has great range with a strong arm at the hot corner. He often looks like a natural at third base. To increase his versatility, Franco has spent some time at first base over the past couple seasons in the Phillies' developmental ranks. He has also played there in the DWL in each of the past two off-seasons. Evaluations of his skills at first are that he likely needs more time there to refine his efforts but is already serviceable.

It's possible that Franco could open the coming season on the Triple-A roster once again, but it won't be too long before he's in the majors for good.

To follow along with this year's full countdown, click HERE.

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