With last night’s loss against the Mets to halt the winning streak, it is now surely safe to assume that the last month of the season for Philadelphia will consist of meaningless, objective-less baseball in terms of wins.
However, September should serve as another purpose for the Phillies organization, as a chance to see how some of the young and highly-coveted prospects fare with a month of Major League ball under their belt.
Nobody has more hype and excitement behind them in the Phillies farm system than 21 year old 3rd baseman Maikel Franco.
After signing as an international free agent with the Phillies in 2010, he then played 51 games for the GCL Phillies, going .222/.292/.330, with 29 RBIs and 11 doubles. For a 17 year old those were impressive numbers, but Franco hadn’t even really begun the remarkable rise he was set to go through over the next three years.
In 2011, Maikel Franco played a total of 71 games between the Williamsport Crosscutters and the Lakewood Blue Claws, hitting .247 with a .318 OBP, but in truth the majority of his totals numbers were made up from a successful 54 game stint with the ‘Cutters. With Williamsport, he hit .287 with an amazing .367 OBP, as well as 38 RBIs and 17 doubles to his name.
2012 saw Franco spend a full season with the Lakewood Blue Claws in order to adjust to the higher level of baseball. He had struggled in 2011 with Lakewood, hitting just .129 with a .143 OBP. However, the year of 2012 was much better with Lakewood, as he hit .280/.336/.439 over 132 games and 554 at-bats, including 84 RBIs, 32 doubles and 14 home runs.
It was at this point in his young career (just 19 after the 2012 season) that Franco was beginning to show some pop with the bat, having seen his previous home run numbers of 2, 2 and 1 soundly beaten by the 14 put up in 2012. His slugging percentage also rose over the period, from .330 in 2010, to .360 in 2011, up to .439 in 2012.
The following season, Franco was at A+ with the Clearwater Threshers for a 65 game spell to begin the season. Once again he continued his rise through the system by putting up fantastic numbers, hitting .299 with a .349 OBP. This earn Maikel a June call-up to Reading at Double-A, where through the remainder of the season Franco was electric, going .339/.363/.563 in a team where he was 4.4 years under the average age at just 20.
He finished the 2013 season with 134 games under his belt, a combined .320 average and .356 OBP, 36 doubles, 31 home runs and 103 RBIs.
The remarkable rise was almost complete when Franco was called to the Phillies spring training camp to compete with Cody Asche for the starting 3B job, which Asche eventually won sending Maikel to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
Almost 6 years under the average age of Lehigh players, Franco has had an up-and-down year thus far, but he seems to have really come into form these last few weeks in order to really contend for a September call up.
My stance on the issue is simple; it is of imperative importance the Maikel Franco gets game time and at-bats under his belt in the majors. Often, young players’ development hinges on the management, and how reluctant or eager those in power are to see the particular player up in the big leagues immediately. In all honesty, there has been a couple of chances to see Franco up this year, including at the start of the season, but that may have drawn more negative opinion than positive.
The timing quite simply has to be right. Too soon and Franco may descend into a slump which may wreck his confidence and reputation, too late and a team may not be maximising their time properly, and it can again affect player confidence.
Now is the perfect time to see Maikel Franco with the Phillies because of a little thing called momentum. A rather understated factor in the promotion of a prospect is how hot they’ve been hitting or pitching. Promoting a player from Triple-A struggling to hit .200 with a low OBP isn’t going to be beneficial for the player in any way other than giving the guy a fresh start. It affects confidence, and confidence affects performance.
On a rather positive note, Franco’s confidence must be sky high at the moment.
After a horrendous start to the season, in which he hit just .209 over the first two months of the season, Franco has recovered to post fantastic numbers since July, going .327/.341/.598 including 7 home runs in the month of August. Hitting for the cycle on the 23rd, going 4-for-4 with 3 RBIs, Franco then proceeded to crush a grand slam on the 26th (his birthday) to further fuel speculation and opinion that a promotion is imminent.
Franco has been such a tough out in the last ten games, hitting .432 with 16 hits over 37 at-bats, driving in 14 runs in the process. Running in to this kind of form right before September can only boost his chances of a successful spell with the Phillies if he is call up, and only deepens the incentive for the Phillies to pull the trigger and promote him.
What a good spell for Franco would mean for Cody Asche is another issue, but with Maikel Franco Philadelphia would be demonstrate a similar rise to that of his 3B counter-part, rising through the system at a quick rate until taking the final step.
Ruben Amaro made the kind of comments you would expect when asked about the possibility of seeing Franco in the expanded roster.
“The biggest thing for him is playing time, and making sure this is the right thing, the right atmosphere and the right time. … We’d like to assess some other things. There are a lot of different factors. We still have time to make a decision on it.”
A parallel to my comments, the biggest thing about this is that it is the right time for Maikel Franco, to maximise the success and production from his month or so in the Major League. We may look back and say it didn’t work out, but in all likelihood I believe he will be the starting third baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies next year.
Despite being an admirer of Cody Asche, I still feel the answer to the question in the title is a resounding yes. Such an interesting and exciting time for so many prospects, including JP Crawford, Jesse Biddle and others, underpins how a wasted season for the Phillies could become a useful final month. Its all about the future now, and the sooner the future is, the better.