This weekend the Phillies put Cody Asche on the disabled list retroactive to Friday with a hamstring injury, publicly the Phillies have said the move is precautionary and Asche should be back in the minimum amount of time. This has led to a ton of speculation surrounding the Phillies pre-season #1 prospect, Maikel Franco.
It is easy to see why the push for Franco in the big leagues. He is exciting and new, the team is old and not very good. Franco offers the sexiest of offensive potential with towering HRs from a right handed batter. The fanbase wants someone like Franco to come up and save this season, or at least provide hope leading into next year. It is entirely understandable, but now is not the time.
He has Challenge to Overcome in AAA:
There have been positive signs, his strikeout rate has been dropping steadily and the walk rate has been climbing to career highs, and in May he has now walked more than he has struck out. The approach is still not there yet, he is being more patient at the plate, and pitchers are respecting the power, but he still has not yet put together the pieces to not just take free bases when pitchers give them, but also to recognize his pitches to hit.
The swing is still a problem, and its length still leaves him guessing on pitchers with more than one good pitch. It also has led to an extreme ground ball (53.9%) and pull tendency (40% of balls in play to the 3B and SS positions). These are not incurable problems, but they are weaknesses a major league pitcher is going to exploit. The Phillies have looked at this year as a year that Franco was going to struggle, they also saw it as a year for him to make adjustments and become a better player. We are still getting into that second part of the process.
He Hasn’t Been as Hot as You Think:
The most common stat quoted is that Franco is hitting .301/.389/.482 in May, which is really good. The problem is that his season line is still .235/.312/.365. More than that, over his past 10 games he is hitting .216/.325/.351.
It is really nice that he has started heating up in May. But lets not pretend he is all the way there yet and pounding on the door to a major league spot. If Franco puts up his current line in the major leagues, he is going to find himself on the bench. If that happens, you are looking at a quick demotion to AAA and a permanent bust label from the fan base.
Over Two Weeks the Difference is Minimal, But Risk is Large:
If Asche was out for 4-6 weeks or more, I would be writing this post very differently, but Asche right now should only be out for two weeks. The difference here is that 2 weeks is barely time for Franco to even adjust to the major leagues, let alone really get a feel for major league pitching and game speed. History tells us that he is likely to be inconsistent and struggle initially (which is perfectly fine by the way), by the time his feet are under him he is back in AAA. In the mean time if Franco stays in AAA Cesar Hernandez and Reid Brignac will handle 3B. That is far from ideal, but you are looking at most a win difference over that time, period and likely much less.
There has been a lot of people saying that there is nothing to lose here. The truth is every time you promote a player you completely change the development parameters. There are new coaches and new challenges. Promoting Franco isn’t going to put his AAA adjustments on hold until he returns, it is going to end that adjustment period and start a new one in the majors. What you are risking his the developmental process for Franco. Especially since the major leagues are results driven, Sandberg is going to care if Franco is spending his ABs trying to go the other way and failing, as opposed to trying to pull everything to slightly better results. The first scenario is better for the Phillies in the long run, but does nothing in the short term.
None of this is to say Franco has regressed, is a lesser prospect than he was at the beginning of the year, because that implies development as a straight line. He has had things to work on and new challenges to overcome, and the more struggle he can do in AAA, the less he has to do later when his results are constantly being judged. Franco should be up some point in 2014, but it might not be until September when he can no longer get AAA ABs, and they can give him the 40 man spot he would need this winter anyways. Enjoy the ride, don’t ruin the end by only trying to understand the last paragraph, it won’t be as good as you expect.