Throughout most of the offseason and into the spring, the overriding presumption among the Philadelphia Phillies and their fanbase is that Cody Asche would be their starting third baseman heading into the 2014 regular season. However, much has been made of Maikel Franco here in the early going.
Franco was their top offensive prospect last season and does indeed project to be a part of their future, whether it be at first or third base. However, it would be premature to place him in the Phillies’ starting lineup on opening day, especially in light of Asche’s presence.
The argument in favor of Franco has been made more frequently since spring has begun, most recently this morning. The team has been promoting a competition, and most have accepted that maybe Franco could actually start the season with the big club. There are, however, a multitude of reasons as to why Asche should remain their starter over Franco to start the 2014 season.
For starters, Asche has major league experience from last season and has already created relationships with his Phillies’ teammates and management. Not to be overlooked either is the fact that he performed admirably after taking over for Michael Young last July. He certainly didn’t set the world on fire, but he showed some surprising pop and a glove that nobody expected.
This all supposes that the debate between Franco and Asche should be about merits. In a perfect world it should be, but this season is not about winning the World Series as much as we may all desire it to be. Asche deserves a full-fledged shot to prove what he can do at the major league level. Franco shot through the minors last season and still has some seasoning he could use.
By starting Franco over Asche to start the season, not only would the Phillies be exposing an inexperienced Franco to the rigors of the National League too early in his career, but they would effectively be giving up on Asche as a prospect.
Play it out: If Franco becomes the guy, the team would be putting him through the ringer in basically the same situation that Asche was put in last season. Asche would be forced to go back to Lehigh Valley to do — what exactly? He would be blocked at the major league level by a younger player who the team just picked over him, and his status as a major league prospect would be damaged significantly as the Phillies will have shown the world that they don’t trust him to be their starting third baseman on a team that is rebuilding. This is a cold indictment.
Not to be overlooked is their positional value. Franco is learning to play first base in addition to third base, where his defense is known to be subpar. Asche, on the other hand, is a third baseman first and foremost. By putting Franco at third base, the only position that Asche plays, the team would be wasting their resources.
The MLB regular season is a long one to be sure. If Asche fails at the major league level and Franco continues his tear with the Iron Pigs, then a change will and should happen. However, come Opening Day later this month, it should be Asche, not Franco, starting for the Phillies at the hot corner.