What may some key Philadelphia Phillies players have found under the Christmas tree as gifts from Santa to help them in the 2016 season?
During September of 2014, Maikel Franco made his debut in Major League Baseball. It was an inauspicious beginning with the Phillies, as Franco hit for just a .179/.190/..214 slash line in 58 plate appearances across 16 games.
Still, the Phils top prospect had gotten his feet wet, and would surely benefit the next time he got the call. That call came a little more than seven months ago, on May 15th.
Just two days later, Franco launched his first big league home run off Randall Delgado in a 6-0 Phillies victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Citizens Bank Park.
Franco took over the starting 3rd base position, and was handling his defensive responsibilities well, while providing a much-needed young spark to the middle of the batting order.
From his promotion through August 10th, a period that encompassed 76 games, or roughly a half-season, Franco hit for a .277/.388/.490 slash line with 13 homers, 22 doubles, 48 RBI, and 43 runs scored.
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But just when he was shoving himself into the NL Rookie of the Year conversation, disaster struck. On August 11th, Franco stepped in against the DBacks at Chase Field. On the mound, ironically, was righty Jeremy Hellickson, who will now be a Franco teammate with the Phillies in 2016.
Hellickson drilled Franco with a fastball on the left wrist in the top of the 1st inning. The pitch would cause a small fracture, one that appeared to end his promising rookie season.
But Franco was able to recover in time to make appearances in the final three games of the season. He even banged a home run at Citizens Bank Park in the 2nd game of an October 3rd doubleheader against the Miami Marlins.
Franco hopefully woke this morning to find a pair of important gifts from Santa, from a baseball perspective, under his Christmas tree.
The first is simply good health. If Franco can stay healthy all year in 2016, have even small performance increases from the players around him, and continue a normal expected developmental growth progression of his own, then we could be looking at a 30+ home run, 100+ RBI season. No Phillies batter has reached either of those marks since Ryan Howard in the 2011 season.
Another important gift that Franco hopefully found is increased defensive effectiveness. While he may have appeared to make most of the plays to the casual fan, the fact is that Franco’s defense by any measurable standard was below average at the hot corner last season.
If it turns out that Franco has to move across the diamond to 1st base eventually, that isn’t the biggest disaster. But it would close off that position for any other all-bat player who comes along, perhaps a prospect such as Jorge Alfaro or Cornelius Randolph, and would create a hole in the future lineup at 3rd base.
If Franco indeed awoke to find full health and better defense under the tree, those will be gifts for not only himself, but also for the entire Phillies organization and the fan base. They would be gifts that keep on giving all through the 2016 season, and well into the future.