There has been a lot written and said about Maikel Franco‘s swing over the course of the season. There have been talks about the shape and length as well as how much power it is going to generate. Overall scouts have questioned how the swing as a whole will translate to the next level. Franco has big time raw power and he has elite bat speed and hand eye coordination. He has demonstrated the ability to make contact, but the quality of that contact has begun to come into question lately. The goal is to explore if that is true and what that deterioration in contact might look like.
So the first question is what kind of contact is Franco making. Here is a break down of his percentages across each level Franco played at this year (sample size of 228, 249, and 88 balls in play respectively).
The first thing that jumps out is the spike in ground balls in AA that coincided with a drop in fly balls. The next thing is that outside of a spike in winter ball, his line drive rate is very low (for example the lowest LD% among qualified 3B in 2013 was Todd Frazier at 18.1%), given that line drives have the highest probability of being hits, that is troubling. The decline in flyball rate is troubling as well because that is where the HR power is coming from. Overall it is an indication that Franco is not making the best contact possible, but given that minor league ball in play classifications can be off lets look at some spray charts.
So next lets look at some spray charts and heat maps starting with Franco’s full season (including winter ball).
There is a lot of ground balls to the right side but also a decent spray to all fields. It is not an especially concerning distribution so lets break it down by stop starting with Clearwater.
Here we have Franco going all over the field. He is driving the ball deep to the OF and taking advantage of the friendly conditions for HRs down the lines. There is still a strong ground ball pull tendency but there are some ground balls going the other way as well.
So now we move to Reading:
The first thing that jumps out to me is a much tighter group on the heat map as defenses get better and make outs. You also notice the number of singles through the holes in the IF, especially up the middle. You can really start to see here where there is that increase in ground balls from Clearwater to Reading. The number of fly balls has also decreased and we see less non-HR balls to the deep parts of the park. We do see that Franco has enough power to put the ball all the way out to any part of LF and the other way.
Lastly here is his winter ball charts:
I don’t want to read too much into the small sample sizes here as there are many factors at play, but we see a ton of stuff to the pull side and less the other way. He has struggled to really elevate the ball at all in winter ball.
So Why Does This All Matter:
Maikel Franco has the tools to make good contact, but he needs to make good contact. He has immense raw power that is close to a 70 grade, but if he is not making solid contact he is robbing himself of a lot of that ability. Additionally France has not drawn walks (Franco’s AA walk rate would have been the 3rd worst amongst major league qualified batters), this means all of his value is based on his babip and balls in play. This means that Franco has to continue to keep his strikeout rate low and his contact solid to make up for that lost value. This isn’t a conclusion that Franco needs to walk more, as much as Franco needs to be more selective at the plate in order to maximize his abilities. Because of his power pitchers are going to give him walks while they work around him, he needs to recognize that and also be willing to work with the pitches he is given.
So overall this isn’t the death sentence to Franco’s prospect status, it is just a warning sign. Franco has a ton of natural talent and in many ways it is getting him into trouble right now because he can survive lower level pitching. If he can put it all together he can be an offensive monster, he is going to need time and patience, you can’t rush everyone to success.
(All graphs from mlbfarm.com)