After the Phillies announced that Cody Asche had been optioned to Lehigh Valley after Monday's game, we began a "FrancoWatch here at The Good Phight. We didn't devote quite the same attention or resources to it that we gave to #DomWatch, but it was important to us nonetheless.
Since the Asche move, those with service time calendars committed to memory pegged this very date at when we might reach the conclusion of our vigil. By waiting the bulk of the week, the Phillies gained an extra year of control over Franco. If they called him up earlier, he would have been a free agent after the 2020 season. Now, he won't be a free agent until 2021. For a team with nothing to gain this year, waiting 4 days to add another year onto the Maikel Franco Experience makes all kinds of sense.
Of course, this isn't the first we have seen of Maikel in Philadelphia as he made a brief appearance with the Phillies toward the end of last season. It would have been good if that cameo were forgettable, but instead Franco was conspicuous in his terribleness. Over 58 plate appearances, Franco posted a sub-pedestrian .179/.190/.214 line, which was good for a 6 wRC+.
Should we expect better this time around? Well, let's turn to what our very own Cormican had to say about Franco in his preseason prospect rankings (note: this post is worth revisiting as we are likely to see more of these players as the season progresses):
There isn't a ton of new stuff to write about Franco. He had a great winter and final month in Triple-A, but he still has the pronounced load in his swing. That load causes Franco to have to start his swing early and guess a bit at pitches. His bat control allows him to make frequent contact even when he's wrong. It remains to be seen whether he can manage to do that against MLB pitching, or if they'll eventually fool him right out of his shoes. It's also worth noting that even that frequent contact is not hard contact. All that said, at each level he's generally made adjustment and made successful contact. At the end of the day, don't get bummed when Franco likely starts off looking very bad when he eventually gets his shot (as he did in September), he may eventually adjust.
So far in 2015, he's certainly made adjustments to AAA pitching. After hitting a bit below league-average at AAA last year (97 wRC+), he has his .350/.372/.540 (166 wRC+) in 145 PA this year. Now, the bad news is that his BB% has gone down and his K% has gone up compared to last year, but reports (mostly via @Matt_Winkleman) are that he has improved his approach at the plate and has shown an ability to shorten his swing when necessary.
Given his struggles last year, it is probably reasonable to expect an adjustment period for Franco. As Cormican notes, he has shown an ability to adjust to his competition, but sometimes takes a number of repetitions to do so. He's only 22 years old, so there's plenty of time for him to still develop into the player he hopefully will become. Watching that process may require patience as development, especially during the initial adjustment phase, is rarely linear.
But in one regard, there is no reason to be patient as this marks the official beginning of the Fun Season of Phillies baseball where we get tastes of what the future of the team will look like as opposed to the depressing reminders of what once was yet no longer is that we've endured for over a month now. This is the start of optimism. #TogetherWeBuild, to borrow from the billboards across the street.
Jim Salisbury is reporting that Franco is expected to hang with Chad (Billingsley) and start at third base tonight against the Diamondbacks. Hopefully he doesn't Chase any pitches from (Diamondbacks starter) Anderson.