I am not a scout nor do I pretend to be. I have not seen Franco in person this year because I live in Wisconsin which is a long distance from Clearwater and Reading. These opinions are formed on video (game feeds and scouting video), reports, and people I have talked.
Since his breakout I have been wanting to discuss Franco, but I wanted to have fully formed opinions before I threw water on some people’s fires. I don’t think I disagree with Franco’s ceiling so much as I think the polish is not where you want it yet. Additionally I think we often ignore faults in players in an effort to recognize their gifts, it is a defense mechanism to avoid thinking about the amount of failure along the journey to the majors. All that being said Maikel Franco is my #2 prospect in the Phillies system and a great prospect and scouting story.
Call it an arm-bar, call it long, call it whatever you want, the one thing the swing isn’t is direct to the ball. There are a lot of things that happen in Franco’s swing before he makes contact with a baseball. His load happens after the pitch is released and it is a large move backwards. The bat travels in an extended looping journey into the zone with his arms fairly extended. He has great hand eye coordination and he can adjust the bat to make contact with almost any pitch. He generates plus to plus plus power due to excellent bat speed and torque as well as good upward plane on his contact.
The issue with this swing is that there is so much going on in the swing and its path so long to the ball that he can be caught behind on premium velocity. Additionally the amount of time to get into the hitting position means he must make decisions very early in the swing process and cannot really wait back on pitches. The fact that his numbers are so good are testament to the raw power to go with the great bat speed and coordination. There is good and bad news in the swing, the load can be quieted and moved to more pre-pitch. The bad news is that the swing path is not an easy thing to change and frankly it will likely cost him much of what makes him successful so he is going to need to make it work.
Franco is never going to have a high walk rate (it will likely stabilize in the 6%-8% range) so the worry with approach has more to do with him making consistent good contact. Franco’s approach is naturally aggressive, he goes to the plate looking to put the ball in play. The concern is that at the major league level if he continues to be as indiscriminate at the plate as he has been it is not going to show in strikeout rate but in a high percent of poor contact. Franco’s biggest strength at the plate is his power and if he is not making solid contact to drive the ball he adds little in terms of secondary skills. The most concerning thing is one I hinted at with regards to the swing. He at times seems to have made up his mind pre-pitch about whether he will swing or not. That is something that he will not be able to get away with in the majors. We know that somewhere that Franco has the approach he needs to be successful because he worked on it in Clearwater showed evidence of it in Clearwater.
Franco is not what your normal third baseman looks like. He has soft hands but the actions are not always great. The range is poor because of the speed but he has more range then you would expect. The arm has been the disappointing thing in person. He throws from the hip in motion which is quick out of his hand but sacrifices accuracy and a lot of utility out of what should be his best asset, a plus arm. Even with the issues he is probably an average defensive third baseman because the arm is good, but it is something that could easily deteriorate if he doesn’t work on it.
Franco might now be the 20 runner he has been said to be, but it is not much faster. Underway he is not terrible but it takes him at least a base to get up speed. He might be one of the slowest accelerating players I have ever seen. He will likely always be station to station on offense, but he might get a couple of double a usual slow runner would not. In the field it decreases some range but not enough to move him off the position.
Franco has large limitations and holes in his game, but there are some tools and skills rarely found in a hitter. If it all breaks right he is on the short list for All-Star third baseman that can provide huge right handed power in the middle of a lineup. There is also a large chance that he cannot make the adjustments and major league starters with good velocity and control will be able to keep him off balance and that he will languish on a bench and in AAA as a bad ball hitter. The problem in prediction is that it will take major league pitching to really expose a lot of Franco’s long term holes, and so there will be plenty of skepticism until he proves it at the highest level. In the end Franco is the high upside hitter the Phillies have had since Domonic Brown.