Heading into the second half of the Minor League season, there might not be a hotter hitter than Phillies' third baseman Maikel Franco. The 20-year old hit .333 with 5 home runs in his last 12 games, and he may be poised to make a jump to Double-A during the second half of 2013. After ranking in the middle of the Phillies system' to start the season, Franco is not only looking like the top prospect in the organization, but he also looks like one of the best infield prospects in all of the Minor Leagues.
Weight: 180 lbs.
On 40-man roster: No
DOB: 08/26/1992 (Age-20 season)
Despite running more like a church-league softball player than a professional baseball player in his workouts, the Phillies still liked Franco enough to sign him for $100,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2010. He signed in time to get some at bats in the Gulf Coast League, hitting .222 in 51 games. In 2011, he began the year in the New York Penn League, batting .287 with some gap power before struggling in a late season promotion to the South Atlantic League. Last season, Franco spent the first half of the season back in the South Atlantic League with similar results, hitting just .216 over the first three months. Then, around July 1, something seemed to click as Franco hit .357 with 26 XBH over his final 58 games. So far this season, the hitting onslaught has continued with Franco hitting .296/.344/.568 with 23 doubles and 15 home runs through 63 games in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League.
The Scouting Report
Franco presently has two plus tools, with the chance for three above-average to plus Major League tools. His hands are incredibly quick at the plate, squaring up better velocity and generating easy bat speed despite average size. The ball just sounds a little differently coming off of his bat, and his batting practice is a daily event because of his raw power. What's more exciting, though, is Franco is beginning to translate that power into games. Like many young players, Franco is overly aggressive at the plate, something that has been tough for him to work on because he gets the barrel to the ball on pitches in and out of the zone. As he moves up he will need to be more selective, but most scouts see his hit tool becoming at least average, with some saying it can be a 60 grade if everything falls right. Defensively, the Phillies initially thought about trying him behind the plate due to his terrible foot speed and outstanding arm strength before sticking him at the hot corner. At third he won't inspire any Brooks Robinson' comparisons, yet the growing consensus is he should be passable at the position with below average range but good enough hands to make the routine plays. If he can't stick at third, he will have to shift to first base because his legitimate 20-grade speed won't work in an outfield corner, even in Citizen's Bank Park.
What's the Future Hold?
Entering the season most publications ranked another Phillies third baseman, Cody Asche, ahead of Franco, but now I think you'd be hard pressed to find an evaluator that wouldn't rather have the 20-year old. Sure, he's riskier, but he has the kind of ceiling that you look for in a frontline Major League player. As I alluded to above, there's an outside shot that Franco finishes this season in Double-A, but more than likely he'll play the full season in the FSL and start next year as one of the youngest players in the Eastern League with his big league debut probably sometime in 2015. Two things will make or break his eventual outcome - his bat, specifically his pitch recognition and approach, and his ability to stay at third. If they both turn out as hoped, which I believe they will, Franco can be a .285+, 25-30 home run player, and the first All-Star third baseman that Philadelphia has developed since Scott Rolen.
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Andrew Ball is a writer for Fake Teams, Fantasy Ninjas, and Beyond the Box Score.
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