Cody Asche or Maikel Franco: Better 3B Option in 2015?
By Ethan Witte
Perhaps the only, and certainly the most interesting, positional battle to be waged in Clearwater this spring will be at third base between hot prospect Maikel Franco and incumbent Cody Asche.
The rebuilding process has clearly begun. The front office has already started this needed process by trading Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd, getting back three young arms who add depth to a system that was sorely lacking it.
These moves were preceded by the trade of Roberto Hernandez in August that brought back two more interesting prospects. With the possibility of more trades a very real option, Phillies fans are staring down the barrell of a team that could get very bad, very fast.
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So Phillies fans might not have many more interesting things to watch than a Franco-Asche battle. While Franco’s career minor league numbers (.275/.325/.450) won’t immediately jump off the page, he represents the best near-ready prospect the team has who could become an impact bat.
Beginning with his 2013 minor league stint at Clearwater and continuing through this past year’s run at AAA Lehigh Valley, Franco began to blossom as a hitter, swatting 47 HR in a shade over 1,100 Plate Appearances.
In 2014, against Triple A pitchers, Franco had a hard time adjusting. He registered a slash line of only .230/.285/.364 prior to the Triple A All-Star Game, with only 6 HR and 42 RBI.
However, after that All-Star Game, Franco caught fire. He went .309/.326/.551 with 10 HR and 36 RBI, ultimately leading to his promotion to Citizens Bank Park. In that cup of coffee, Franco only hit .179/.190/.214, which can be whisked away due to small sample size.
All of the tools are still there for Franco to succeed, so any worries about his ability to hit should be tempered. When it comes to Franco, it comes down to two things:
1) Is he ready?
2) Where does he play?
His regular position, third base, is currently occupied by Cody Asche. The Philadelphia fan base has taken to Asche with a collective “yawn” in his short career, as he hasn’t done a whole lot to cause excitement.
In 614 Plate Appearances, Asche’s career slash line stands at .247/.307/.390, with advanced numbers translating to a .305 wOBA. National League third basemen produced a .317 wOBA as a group, and had a .311 wOBA in 2013.
Asche is not that far off from the average player at the hot corner, and still retains at least some potential to get a little better. Even though these numbers aren’t the greatest, there is some reason for optimism.
Hitting line drives in baseball is the surest way of registering a base hit. Whenever a person looks at the deeper stats, LD% is a good indicator of the type of contact a player is making.
Third basemen in the N.L. hit line drives 21% of the time in 2014. After returning from a thigh injury at the end of June, Asche’s line drive percentage rose with each successive month through the end of the season: 22.7% in July, 25.4% in August, and 27.5% in September/October.
While the small sample size caveat does apply here (he was beginning to lose plate appearances to Franco late in the season), the fact remains that he was making harder contact at an above average rate as the year progressed.
Asche was never really expected to become a GREAT hitter, but the belief was that he’d at least become a useful regular at the hot corner, and numbers like these show that perhaps he is making the necessary adjustments to live up to that potential.
So here the team sits – two players capable of playing third base, yet only one lineup spot to give out. Early hints show that Asche is going to be the third baseman to begin the season, but Franco’s hot hitting in winter ball could at least open up the position for a fight.
If Franco continues that hot hitting in spring training, then things could get really interesting.
There has been some talk that Asche, with the trade of Marlon Byrd to the Reds, could move into left field. This would push Domonic Brown over into right and Franco into the every day lineup, allowing the Phils to get both Asche and Franco into the lineup together.
Another option discussed was that of dealing Ryan Howard in order to put Franco at first base. But getting another team to take on that $60 million contract anchor has been a daunting task, to say the least. Plus, were Howard to be moved, the actual first option would probably be Darin Ruf taking over first base duties.
For 2015, the best option might be having Franco begin the season back at AAA Lehigh Valley, getting some final minor league seasoning against more advanced pitching, while Asche mans the hot corner in Philadelphia.
Having Maikel Franco begin the 2015 season back at AAA might be the best course
Franco has proven that it takes him time to get used to a level before he is fully capable of making the necessary adjustments to succeed. Allowing him to begin against minor league pitching will help him build the confidence he needs to be successful at the major league level.
Having Franco in the majors on the bench, but not playing every day, would be a big mistake. this approach has already backfired once for the Phillies with another recent top hitting prospect (see Brown, Domonic).
Meanwhile, the team can continue to have Asche develop as a major league quality hitter who plays a passable defense at third (-3 DRS in 924 innings). Should Asche fail to hit, there really is nothing lost. The Phillies probably aren’t going to contend, and stand to lose nothing either way. If Asche doesn’t hit, and Franco does, the decision becomes very easy.
Franco’s final position may not even be third base. Many scouts believe he would best be served as a first baseman, so perhaps this is all a moot point in the end.
Either way, Cody Asche and Maikel Franco represent the immediate future of the Philadelphia Phillies. Their development will go a long way in determining how the future looks in both the everyday lineup and on the overall roster. Hindering this development in any way would be a major mistake.