Game face. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE
Kevin Frandsen has been playing sparingly of late due to a stress fracture, but before his injury, he was making a few tentative moves up the fan favorites power rankings. As of now, he has a .336/.386/.397 slash line in 41 games (159 plate appearances) since being called up from Lehigh Valley, and he's made a handful of flashy plays in the field at third base as well. He also seems to possess some of the aesthetic characteristics that some fans of this team tend to like: call him "scrappy, " I guess.
Of course, those nice stats are largely a mirage. He's doing it with a .366 BABIP, which is not only much higher than any BABIP he'd ever posted during his limited time in the majors before this year, but also higher than any BABIP he ever posted in AAA. (His combined 2011-2012 OPS at Lehigh Valley was a rather unimpressive .748.) Also, his defense really isn't all that great. Popular perceptions of his fielding have declined lately because of a bunch of errors he's made over the past week while playing hurt, but flashy plays aside, he wasn't all that great of a fielder even before his injury. He has a -3.3 UZR/150 this season (in only 330.1 innings, mind you), and a career UZR/150 of -9.3 in 732.1 major league innings at 3B. So, the limited data we have is pretty consistent in suggesting that while he won't kill you out there, he isn't a defensive asset either, at least not at that position.
All that said, the Phillies might end up being forced to pencil him in as their part-time, or even full-time, starter at 3B on Opening Day 2013, and you know what? That wouldn't necessarily be the worst thing in the world. Yes, the guy is not going to have a wRC+ of 114 (as he does this year) over a full major-league season, nor is he ever going to post ~3.5 fWAR (the extrapolation of his 2012 fWAR) over a full season. But "worse than he's looked in 2012" ≠ an unacceptable alternative at third base.
Here are a few points in Frandsen's favor.
1. He isn't just your run-of-the-mill minor league journeyman like, say, Pete Orr, or for that matter, Erik Kratz. Unlike those guys, Frandsen was actually considered to be a pretty decent prospect when he was on his way up. Before the 2007 season, the estimable John Sickels gave him a B- grade and ranked him as the 5th-best prospect in the Giants system, and in 2005, Sickels gave him a Jeff Keppinger comp with an outside chance of developing into a Michael Young. Obviously he wasn't a Trout or Profar or anything like that, but he didn't come entirely out of nowhere either. There was a time when some people thought he was talented, and while people are wrong about stuff like that all the time, it does increase the possibility that he actually can play.
In fact, at one time Frandsen was a little bit of a cause célèbre over at our sister blog McCovey Chronicle. Here's a little something that a Mr. Grant Brisbee wrote before he got to be all big-time.
Meanwhile, Frandsen’s raking in AAA again. He's hitting .330/.381/.475, which is close to his career minor league line of .327/.390/.460. Note that more than half of his career minor league at-bats came in AAA, so it isn't as if his numbers are inflated by a monster year in rookie ball.... The projection systems differ a bit, but most have Frandsen as a kind of .270/.330/.380 hitter....
Frandsen isn’t likely to ever be an All-Star. His ceiling might be as a decent utility option for a good team.... But Frandsen is getting hosed, and I just felt like pointing it out. He’s been vocal about his displeasure, and he was visibly upset when Edgar Renteria pinch-hit for him in a close-and-late situation. Good. He should be.
The MCC folks are not dummies, so this shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. Now, does it prove that Frandsen is a non-bad major league player? Of course not. We've all thought highly of certain prospects (and had good reason to do so!) only to see them fail down the road -- that's a pretty common experience in baseball fandom. But this is still a positive data point. The fact is, baseball is weird sometimes. There are such things as late bloomers. And good players sometimes do fall through the cracks and get lost. It happens. That Frandsen was once highly regarded gives us at least a little bit of reason for hope.
2. He's really cheap. Cots says that Frandsen is arb-eligible this offseason. So he's under team control, and even with his nice numbers since his recall this year, he's going to make peanuts in 2013. The same can't be said of any other alternative for 3B. That includes free agents. It includes guys like Chase Headley, who would cost a ton in terms of the prospects you'd have to give up in a trade. It also includes Cody Asche, for whom the cost would be the risk of damaging his development by rushing him.
3. You have to grade on a curve. Third base is really weak around MLB these days. In particular there just aren't that many guys who can field the position competently. That's why guys like Alberto Callaspo (94 wRC+, good-but-not-great fielder) and Joaquin Arias (92 wRC+, good-but-not-great fielder) can both be playing at ~3 fWAR/full season paces this year. Frandsen is clearly not as good in the field as those guys, but if he could just improve a little bit with an off-season of intensive work, then he might be able to get in the same neighborhood as Callaspo & co. in terms of overall production.
4. There might be a long-term solution a season away in the form of Cody Asche. On one hand, it would be foolish at this stage to expect Asche to make the majors in 2013. He had an excellent 2012 campaign in Clearwater and Reading, but it was only his first full professional season, he was quite bad at Williamsport in 2011, and he was only an okay prospect coming out of college. Unless something unforeseen happens in the spring, he should be left under the microscope for a bit longer to make sure he's the real deal and to allow him to solidify his gains. On the other hand, if you can just find a way to wait out one season, you could very well be rewarded with a good, young, cost-controlled player on your roster for 2014 and years to come. That doesn't mean that the Phillies must go with a stopgap in 2012, but it does mean that at the margins, a stopgap is a somewhat more attractive option than it otherwise would be.
As our President might say, let me be clear: I'm not advocating that the Phillies go with Frandsen as their 3B next year. He probably isn't a good player, and they should always explore all of their options. What I'm saying is that they shouldn't go crazy in their efforts to find someone better. He plausibly might be competent, and there are worse things in life than suffering through a season with a cheap, below-average player manning one position.