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Guys I Keep Drafting: Maikel Franco

Heath begins his “Guys I Keep Drafting” series with a cheap source of corner infield power.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at New York Mets Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Now that football championships are decided, my focus is on who to target in my fake baseball drafts. I have conducted a handful of mock drafts using the Draft Wizard tool on FantasyPros. Tools like this one are far superior to the stone age days of mock drafting on Yahoo. Ain’t nobody got time for that. The Wizard’s computer teams make selections based off of expert rankings, too. So while you are not drafting with live people, I do believe you can get a pretty good idea of who is going to be available when—for a fraction of the time it would take to draft live.

Disclaimer on strategy: I prefer to load up on hitters early. Since I am almost always choosing to punt pitchers, I generally have a lot of the same decisions with regard to players. A few examples that stick out already are: Gary Sanchez or Jonathan Lucroy? Anthony Rendon or Evan Longoria? Gerrit Cole or Carlos Martinez?

There are certainly more decisions one will make in any draft, but the above-named players are a few I will research in this series so that I am better-informed come draft time.

One guy I keep drafting is Maikel Franco, the young third baseman of the Philadelphia Phillies. Franco turns 25 in August and is coming off of a down season in which he still managed to bang out 25 home runs. His consensus ranking at FantasyPros is 157, which means in a typical 12-team draft you can safely acquire his services in the 12th or 13th round.

It seems prudent to remind everyone that Franco was in the running for Rookie of the Year honors in 2015 prior to suffering a hand injury in August. He smacked 14 home runs in only 80 games that season, and his league-average BABIP of .297 suggests the output was not unlucky. His OBP was a pristine .343, an impressive mark given his below average walk rate of 7.8 percent. What sticks out to me about that season is his 15.5% strikeout rate—a mark that is much lower than what we would expect for a power hitter of Franco’s pedigree. Miguel Sano is a third baseman ranked closely to Franco at #138 overall over on FantasyPros. Sano struck out 35.5% of the time in 2015 and followed that up with a 36.0% mark last season. Sano does boast more power, but the whiff rate scares me off of him. I’d rather wait for Franco.

In 2016 Franco struck out 16.8% of the time, a mild regression from his breakout 2015. Steamer projects a small rebound to 15.9% though, closer to his 2015 mark.

What I see in Franco is a young power hitter with room to improve. And sure, plenty of guys socked 25 home runs last season—but how many of them are young and on an upswing? It is easy to believe Franco is still learning how to be a professional. Just this winter he submitted to a new workout regimen that has him looking downright skinny. This seems like a guy with good self-awareness who is driven to improve his game. Franco set a goal to be in better shape for this spring, and he appears to be well on his way to achieving that goal. That’s all narrative, but it has to mean something.

Assuming Franco is in better shape (which we already have visual evidence for) and assuming he continues to improve (not crazy for a 24 year-old), we could be looking at a solid profit considering his draft cost. You could argue he was unlucky last season with a .271 BABIP, so any rebound near the league-average .300 mark is going to buoy his already tolerable statistics.

One of Franco’s early comparisons was to Adrian Beltre, another big-swinger who made enough contact to survive on the big league level. Of course it was a different era, but Beltre’s whiff rates during his first two seasons were 17.3% and 17.1% respectively (similar to Franco’s rates). That was 1998 and 1999 for Beltre’s first two seasons, if you were curious. Fast forward to the 37 year-old’s last two seasons and you see marks of 10.5% and 10.3% for Beltre. Professionals who come in blazing like Franco did in 2015 get adjusted to by opposing pitchers...and then it is on the youngster to adjust back. At this point in January of 2017, I like what I see from the Philadelphia third baseman so far.

I also think the Phillies are going to be a pesky out this season. Odubel Herrera is only 25 years old and signed a five year deal in December of 2016. The Phillies also just signed All-Star Michael Saunders to patrol right field and to probably bat third in the order, one spot ahead of Franco. Behind Franco will be some mix of veteran Howie Kendrick and promising youngsters Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp. We aren’t talking Cooperstown with this lineup, but it is definitely improved from last season’s version. The team context has moved from one of the league’s worst to potentially league-average. That’s a pretty solid leap in my opinion.

Fearless Forecast Time!

Steamer: 139G, 598 PA, 26 HR, 71R, 84 RBI, 2 SB, .272 AVG, .324 OBP, .472 SLG

For my part, I see a few more home runs for the big guy this season. I’d give him him a real chance to hit the 30-homer plateau or come very close to it. I like that Steamer is giving him a boost in average and BABIP. It won’t take much for Franco to bat .260 and legitimately push for 30 home runs...who doesn’t like that in the 13th round?