If there is one thing teams look for in the offseason, it is top prospects.
That’s how the Pittsburgh Pirates rocketed from relative obscurity to contenders this season. Teams are getting away from the model of signing big-ticket free agents and going young as the way to get better.
In Cody Asche and Maikel Franco, the Philadelphia Phillies have two of the best third-base prospects in baseball. The Phillies have to carefully weigh who they consider is the better one right now and use the other one to help fill other gaping holes on the team.
In that evaluation process, they probably already have concluded that Franco is the superior overall product. Franco celebrated his 21st birthday on Monday with his 30th minor league home run this season at Double-A Reading (Pa.). The number is combined with his Single-A homers at Clearwater, Fla. Asche, 22, had 15 minor-league homers (and a .297 batting average) when he was called up from Lehigh Valley (Pa.) on July 30. Since the Phillies are a left-handed hitting dominated team and Asche is left-handed, putting a power-hitting right-handed hitter, like Franco, balances the lineup going forward.
To be sure, the Phillies have experimented with both Asche and Franco at other positions. Asche has played some outfield while Franco has played some first base, but both have excelled defensively at third base in addition to their good hitting numbers and probably project as lifers at that position. In 128 games, evenly split between two leagues, Franco is hitting .314 with 30 homers and 101 RBI. 16 of the homers have been in Class A and the rest in Class-AA.
The Phillies need help in other areas like the bullpen and the outfield, and if Asche puts up good numbers in September, that means the team can dangle him for some established veteran pitching or at least a productive right-handed hitting outfielder.
Franco, though, has the kind of power that the Phillies have to put on a fast track to the majors. And if that means they have to say goodbye to Asche, they should make that decision. Maybe they already have.