We've already begun our encompassing look at the third base position with the release of our consensus top 30 third basemen for the 2014 season. We will not be releasing a top prospect list by position this year, so there is no list of top 20 third base prospects coming, for the simple reason that ranking them for position isn't likely to help a lot of fantasy owners. Instead, as a part of each position, the prospect staff will look at a few prospects at each position who could potentially have an impact during the 2014 season. Next up on the list is Maikel Franco of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Weight: 180 lbs.
On 40-Man Roster: No
Protect After: 2014 Season
DOB: 8/26/1992 (Age 21 season)
Franco was signed by the Phillies out of the Dominican Republic in early 2010, receiving a bonus of $100K. A late signing for international free agents at 17 years old, the Phillies sent him to their rookie league affiliate in the GCL for a forgettable 2010 campaign. He moved up to short-season ball to start the 2011 season, and hit a very solid (albeit somewhat empty) .287/.367/.411 before a late-season promotion to full-season Low-A. He spent the full 2012 season at Low-A Lakewood, hit 14 home runs and drove in 80 with a .280 batting average. Franco also showed excellent plate discipline and contact skills that year, walking nearly 7% of the time but only striking out 14%.
Things came together entirely for Franco this past year, as he hit 31 home runs, drove in 103, and hit .320/.356/.569. He also continued the high contact rate, striking out just under 13% of the time despite the uptick in power production. He split time in 2013 between High-A and AA almost evenly, and actually hit a bit better at AA in the same amount of plate appearances (.339/.363/.563).
The Scouting Report
The first thing that stands out about Franco is the power, which is considered to be plus-plus, both in batting practice and in-game. The key to his power potential remains how well he can hit, and Franco is expected to be at least an average hitter with the potential at times for more. He has an extremely quick bat and excellent hand-eye coordination, both of which help him to generate power and also to make hard contact at a high rate. There are questions about his approach long-term, and specifically whether he will have trouble with more advanced pitching as he moves up.
Franco is never going to provide value with his feet, considered widely to be a 20 runner on the 20-80 scale. If he provides you with any stolen bases in the future, it would be a small miracle. There are substantial questions about where Franco will end up on the diamond defensively, as he is likely better suited for a first base job, if it were available in Philadelphia. He isn't considered a complete butcher over at third though, and still could end up at the position in the major leagues and be decent there.
What's Keeping Him From Contributing Now?
Franco has played about a half season at AA, and realistically could probably use more reps at the plate and especially in the field. Add in that the team has Cody Asche already on the 40-man roster and slotted in as the starter, and he'll is expected to move to AAA to start the 2014 campaign.
When Could He Arrive?
Prospect Cody Asche was called up at the end of the season last year, and he comes in as the incumbent at third base. That said, with Ryan Howard locked up at first base through 2016, it's possible we could see Franco start his major league career in some sort of platoon by the end of the season. More likely, I think Franco ends up unseating Asche by the end of the year and taking over as the everyday third baseman for the 2015 season.
What Can He Do When He Gets There?
Franco has the potential to be a .270+ hitter with 25+ home run power down the line. He makes enough contact that I would not be too concerned about him as a batting average risk at this time, like some of the more prolific power hitters of recent years, but I do want to see what he does at AAA this year, specifically whether his performance drops off against that more advanced pitching.
Franco is a very interesting prospect, although one who has a lot more question marks than a number of the prospects we have reviewed so far. The potential for a position switch could hurt his overall value, and while his bat would still play at first base, it would not nearly be as valuable to fantasy owners there. The potential for a high power bat is also hurt somewhat by the questions regarding approach and also work ethic, but I think he will figure it out. I have him as my 5th ranked 3B prospect, and within the top 40 overall on our upcoming top 200 fantasy prospect list.
Jason Hunt is a contributing writer for Fake Teams, specializing in the minor leagues and prospects. You can follow him on Twitter @jasonsbaseball