It was a matter of time, but on Friday the Philadelphia Phillies promoted power-hitting prospect Maikel Franco. The move comes as no surprise to those keeping track of the Dominican third baseman. In 33 games with the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, Franco has been crushing Triple-A pitching, hitting .355/.384/.539 with 24 RBIs and 17 extra-base hits including four homers.
The decision to call up Franco was near certain after Cody Asche‘s demotion to the Iron Pigs earlier this week. Asche had been struggling this year. Despite a .245 batting average he only had four RBIs. Asche has been the Phillies’ third basemen for over two seasons. His move to Triple-A is part of a greater plan the organization has to transition him into the outfield since Franco is viewed as the long-term man in the hot corner.
The timing is opportune for the Phillies. Even if Franco remains with the big league club for the remainder of the season (144 games) he will still fall one day short of meeting the full year service time requirement. This means the prospect will not become a free agent until 2012.
This will not be Franco’s first stint in the majors. The 22-year-old was called up late in the 2014 season. The results were not encouraging. In 16 games with the Phillies, Franco batted just .179 and struck out 13 times. However, Lehigh Valley manager Dave Brundage has said this is a different player from the one he saw last year. “He’s a much better hitter. He’s a lot quieter in the box.”
Brundage was shocked by the progress he’s seen this year. He referenced an at-bat during Wednesday’s game against the Columbus Clippers where Franco was down early in the count, but composed himself and did not try to do to much. The at-bat resulted in a game tying hit.
As is the case with most prospects, the issue at hand is not talent, but consistency. Plate discipline alone will keep a young ballplayer in the majors. Franco, the 56th ranked prospect by Baseball America, has shown improvement thus far, but it remains to be seen whether the pressure of the show will make the third basemen return to his old ways.