One year ago, Phillies fans across the region were pulling their collective hair out of their heads over yet another prospect bust. In 58 incredibly meaningful plate appearances during a September call-up in 2014, Maikel Franco, the franchise's greatest hope at the hot corner since
Cody Asche Scott Rolen was simply the worst. He struck out nearly a quarter of the time, walked nearly none of the time, and hit either 94% worse than league average or 6% better than a corpse depending on your level of optimism. The book was closed. The 21 year-old prospect was bust, 94% dead on arrival.
But then a funny thing happened on the way to 2015, Maikel Franco figured it out. When he received a mid-May call to the majors--which is now a matter of some controversy with regard to potential service time manipulation--Franco came with reports that he had improved his plate discipline. By mid-June, we had forgotten his struggles from the previous September and began an All-Star write-in campaign for him.
Franco didn't make the All-Star team for two main reasons: 1) He wasn't one of the two or three best players in his league at his position and 2) He wasn't on the ballot. But, contrary to popular opinion, players can still be good even if they don't make the All-Star team. Cole Hamels has made it his brand to be the really good player who never goes to the All-Star Game. Maikel Franco learned well from his short-lived friendship with Cole. From June 1st until the All-Star game, Franco hit .321/.376/.558, 55% better than league average. He even hit a home run off Aroldis Chapman.
Someone must have told Franco that "last to get to the gym, first one out" is the model upon which success is built, so, after a late start to the season, his season more or less ended early when he left an August 11th game with a wrist injury. Two things about that. First, his season didn't truly end early since he returned for the final three games of the season on October 3rd and 4th. Second, that wrist injury was the direct result of Jeremy Hellickson--you may have heard of him--hitting Franco with a pitch.
When he did play, Maikel Franco was at least all that we could have hoped for. He was 8th among all third basemen with 300 or more plate appearances in OPS (.840), wOBA (.360), and wRC+ (128). Most years, those numbers would merit serious consideration for NL Rookie of the Year. Unfortunately for Franco, he was a rookie in 2015, so he wasn't even the best third baseman in his class (Kris Bryant). As a result, he didn't receive a single vote for the award.
That doesn't mean we shouldn't be excited for Maikel Franco in 2016 and going forward. In just over half a season worth of time (80 games, 335 PA), Franco hit 14 dingers and had 50 RBI. Will he push toward 100 RBI in a full season of time? Probably not with this offense, but who cares? We all know RBI are meaningless anyway. That is, unless they add up to a round number that makes for easy analysis and takes. Ryan Howard has been in the best shape of his life each of the last 5 springs, yet we have still not seen that sort of offensive output in some time. Maikel Franco provides real hope for that.
He also, despite less than stellar defensive ratings by advanced metrics, was fun to watch at the hot corner. Does he try to make too many barehand plays? Probably. Are they fun to watch either way? Absolutely, even as the ball eludes his grasp about half the time.
Projection systems consider Franco likely to be pretty good in 2016. Don't let last year's rookie class shift your expectations too much: Pretty good as a 23 year old is actually very good. Especially for the Phillies, a full season of dingers and barehanded attempts at third base is reason to get excited.