It has now been two weeks since Maikel Franco was promoted to the Phillies. After what by any measure was a disappointing debut last September, expectations were tempered for what Franco might provide in 2015. In the last two weeks, though, Franco has held his own against major league pitching and his offensive performance demonstrates improvement in the areas of his game that were concerning--plate discipline and high swing-and-miss rates.
After only 13 games and 54 plate appearances, we are no doubt navigating the murky waters of small samples here. Perhaps more importantly, we're dealing with a 22 year-old who is still developing as a player. Both of those statements serve to suggest that the player Franco will be in a month or a year may or may not resemble the player we've seen the past two weeks. Questions regarding Franco's future ability are best directed toward a scout. Cormican, for instance can answer those sorts of questions better than I. Matt Winkelman of Phillies Minor Thoughts is seemingly always on Twitter and is also better equipped to deal with these matters.
Future projections aside, though, what Maikel Franco has done in the last two weeks has been impressive, especially when viewed in the context of his 2014 debut and the concerns scouts have expressed about his game.
One of the most frequently expressed concerns about Franco's offensive game was his propensity to chase pitches and swing and miss. Those concerns were on display in his 2014 debut as he struck out in over 22% of his plate appearances while walking in less than 2% of them.
So far in 2015, his strikeout and walk rates have been more or less in line with his AAA numbers of the last two years as he's striking out in just under 15% of his appearances and walking in a little over 5% of them. That Franco is striking out less frequently than the league average of 20.1% this early in his call-up is impressive. He is also swinging and missing far less than he did last year (9% vs. 13.3%) and more or less at a league average rate. Again, good stuff from a 22 year old with swing-and-miss concerns.
Likely as a result of his improved plate discipline, Franco has hit the ball harder in his second stint with the Phillies. He's slugging nearly 200 points higher this go-around and has hit his first two major league home runs in 2015. His .412 slugging percentage is second on the Phillies among players with more than 5 plate appearance. Perhaps that latter nugget is more an indictment of the Phillies than praise of Franco, but regardless, Franco is doing things. The Baseball Info Solutions quality of contact numbers back up those results, as they have him hitting balls classified as hard hit nearly 25% of the time compared to a less than 10% rate last year.
Even with all this improvement, however, Franco is still hitting about 10% below league average according to both wRC+ and OPS+. That should come up as Franco's .244 BABIP regresses a bit to the mean. Franco doesn't run very well--some scouts have suggested his speed rates as a 20 on the 20-80 scale--so, unless he becomes a Miguel Cabrera-caliber hitter, he doesn't figure to sustain a BABIP better than league average. But, even so, Franco should be closer to average in that regard than he is.
As a 22 year-old with barely over 100 major league plate appearances to his name, the path ahead is likely to be bumpy for Maikel Franco. Fortunately, it appears that the Phillies intend to let him play through them. His only positional competition, Cody Asche, is in the process of being moved off of the position. Throughout his minor league career, he has shown the ability to adjust to his level of competition. It is important that Franco receive the opportunity to adjust at the major league level when the struggles come, which they inevitably will.
Regardless of what may lie ahead for Franco, is 2015 major league results thus far have been incredibly encouraging especially considering how much of an improvement they show over his struggles less than 8 months ago. 22 year-olds develop and change quickly and it will be fun, and likely frustrating on occasion, to watch Maikel Franco develop as a player in the midst of an otherwise lost season.