Maikel Franco is one of the Philadelphia Phillies‘ top prospects entering the 2014 campaign. Last season, Franco was one of the most lethal bats in the organization, hitting .320 with 31 home runs and 103 RBIs in 134 games split between advanced-A Clearwater and double-A Reading. He is a natural third basemen but is learning to play first base as well, which could lead to an interesting future with the club.
Considering Ryan Howard is guaranteed to make $25 million over each of the next three seasons, it is highly unlikely that the Phillies would play Franco over Howard unless he is injured. Regardless of talent, it is rare to see any team play a young unproven talent over a veteran making $25 million per year. That would be a lot of money to sit on the bench.
Since Franco is a natural third basemen and the Phillies are essentially starting over at third base, one would assume he would continue to work there and try to win the third base position over youngster Cody Asche. Just last week, Franco stated that he was going to primarily play first base this season, but a few hours later Ruben Amaro Jr. said third base would still be his primary position. What does this mean?
While both Franco and Asche show potential to be successful major league players, Franco’s offensive upside is much higher. There’s no doubt in three years when Howard’s monster contract is up, it would be great for Franco and Asche to be in the starting lineup as seasoned, accomplished major leaguers.
Asche struggled with major league pitching last year, batting just .235 with five home runs and 22 RBIs in 50 games. There is no guarantee that Franco will come in and post better numbers, but his history shows he will only continue to get better. He started last season in Clearwater where he compiled a .299 batting average with 16 home runs and 52 RBIs in 65 games. When he was promoted to Reading, he hit .339 with 15 home runs and 51 RBIs in 69 games. His batting average climbed 40 points and his home run and RBI numbers are almost exactly the same against a higher level of competition.
In comparison, Asche played 68 games (one less than Franco) with Reading in 2012 batted .300 with 10 home runs and 47 RBI. Franco possesses more consistency, power and production than Asche at this point in his career. If Franco continues to put up numbers at the minor league level, then there will be several different possibilities for the Phillies.
If Asche struggles, then Franco could take over the daily third base duties, but the Phillies would be smart to make sure Asche still gets work in to ensure a prosperous future. If Howard has another run with the injury bug, Franco could get a chance to compete at first base along with Darin Ruf.
But what will happen if Asche adapts to major league pitching and Howard really struggles? Would the Phillies have the guts to sit a $25 million player in favor of a more talented prospect with a bright future? Although these are all hypothetical situations, it would be great if the 21-year-old Franco pans out to be the first baseman of the future. It is possible that they will have to make this decision at some point over the next three years.