Phillies Nuggets: Time running out for Maikel Franco

Maikel franco spring

Time is running out for Maikel Franco. (Frank Klose/SportsTalkPhilly)

By Tim Kelly, Sports Talk Philly editor

The 2017 Philadelphia Phillies season began with the club's new hitting coach Matt Stairs comparing Maikel Franco to his former teammate and American League MVP Miguel Tejada. This came after a 2016 season in which Franco slashed .255/.306/.427 with 25 home runs and 88 RBIs, which manager Pete Mackanin admitted he didn't think was a good year by Franco's standards. If Mackanin thought Franco was underwhelming in 2016, it's hard to imagine what he thinks of his 2017 season, where the door quickly seems to be shutting on the idea of Franco being a part of the team's long-term future. 

While the Phillies may have left San Francisco with a positive feeling, Franco certainly didn't. The 24-year-old was 4 for 15 in the team's four-game series against the Giants, which isn't horrendous, but he's hitting just .203 this month, and is slashing a poor .224/.277/.389 on the season. As's Jason Ferrie wrote earlier this season, he is putting the ball on the ground far too much for any power hitter. He also hasn't exactly fixed his problem of being too pull happy. 

Franco's own performance no longer appears to be his only problem.

The Lehigh Valley IronPigs played shortstop J.P. Crawford, who has had a strong second half, at third base yesterday. It appears that Crawford is going to get a chance to play some third base in the final month of the season. While Phillies assistant general manager Ned Rice told Matt Gelb of The Philadelphia Inquirer that they still believe Crawford will spend the bulk of his career playing shortstop, Crawford knocking on the door of making his major league debut at third base gives you a pretty good idea of what's to come if Franco doesn't quickly improve his play. 

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Forget, at least for the time being, the idea of Manny Machado replacing Franco at third base after 2018. It feels pretty safe to assume that the Phillies (and a bulk of the league) will make a play for the Baltimore Orioles third baseman after 2018, but there's still another season to be played before then. Franco's extremely underwhelming 2017 season has made third base a prime spot for the Phillies to use to fix their "problem" of having too many talented middle infielders in 2018. 

Despite his flaws at the plate, Freddy Galvis remains one of the league's best fielding infielders and a leader on the team. A year from now, the Phillies will have Crawford on the 40-man roster and at the major league level, which may very well bump him or Galvis to third base for a majority of games. Scott Kingery will likely be with the Phillies early next season, with Rice also noting that the team may look at him at shortstop and/or third base at Triple-A in the next few weeks. Current second baseman Cesar Hernandez fields well and has been a pretty strong hitter over the past calendar year. If he's not traded this offseason, one of him or Kingery could play some games at third base. 

The guess here is that Franco will be the team's Opening Day starter at third base next year. It would make next to no sense to trade him this offseason – when he's still young and cheap – after the worst season of his young career. So Franco will likely be with the Phillies in 2018, but he's not going to be guaranteed 500 at-bats. Despite some flashes of defensive prowess, he's a below-average fielder and hasn't made up for that with his bat in 2017. 

No one said making some rather drastic adjustments to his approach at the plate in 2017 would be easy for Franco. But he's had an entire season working with Stairs, after his disappointing 2016 season at least played a part in the team moving on from Stairs' predecessor, Steve Henderson. Stairs said this spring that Franco "will be an MVP candidate once he figures it out." If he truly has that type of potential, he needs to start showing it, because The Wicked Witch of the West has flipped the hourglass on his audition to be the team's long-term third baseman and it is quickly running out of red grains of sand.

The Nuggets

  • Rhys Hoskins is averaging a home run every 7.6 at-bats. He's not quite on a 2001-Barry Bonds pace, but it's fitting that he homered twice this weekend in San Francisco, because he's on pace to hit just under 66 home runs in a 500 at-bat season. 
  • Whenever the Phillies play in San Francisco, I'm struck by the beauty of AT&T Park (although I still have to keep myself from calling it Pac Bell Park). As historically cool as Wrigley Field and Fenway Park are, the Giants play in the nicest stadium in the league, in my mind. 
  • Over the weekend, the Giants also displayed two alternate jerseys that are flames – the black ones especially: