Are Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco building blocks for the future?
by Joe Messineo 8/24/16

Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera of the Phillies

The Philadelphia Phillies are down in the standings far enough where sights are set on next season and beyond. This is a rebuilding franchise with the pieces to get good again pretty fast. However, two of those main building blocks, center fielder Odubel Herrera and third baseman Maikel Franco, are not guaranteed successes, which begs the question, is this pair good enough to carry the franchise into the next title contender?

Herrera was a former amateur free agent signing by the Texas Rangers. Though he seems like one of the lynch pins on this young Phillies roster, Herrera himself is just 24 years old with two years of Major League experience. He can’t even enter free agency until the year 2021.

But Herrera’s early success on the field has led to this belief that he is a cornerstone piece. Especially in this, his second MLB season, he has become a star. He doesn’t have power, but few center fielders do. Instead, Herrera is a speed and on-base percentage guy. He has already passed his previous year’s total in steals and destroyed his previous walks mark. With a career .291 batting average, the only thing lacking in Herrera’s slap and speed game had been getting on base more often. That seems solved now as he’s more than doubled his walk rate for the Phillies from 5.2 percent in 2015 to 10.8 percent this year. His walk-per-strikeout rate has also more than doubled.

However, Herrera is not an elite center fielder. In fact, this year he’s been rather poor at the position. And he lacks the prototypical power output for someone playing a corner outfield spot. This shouldn’t be that surprising for a former converted infielder, but it opens the door for concern about his future. If he is only bringing two or three of the five tools to the table, is this really a franchise building block?

Some folks already think the answer is no. And it’s not like Philadelphia will be without center field options. In fact, that’s what makes Herrera’s future even murkier. The team’s minor leagues are packed to the gills with outfield prospects. Aaron Altherr is also already on the Major-League roster with Herrera and may be a better center fielder in time.

Philadelphia manager Pete Mackanin has expressed his displeasure with Herrera’s performance both in the field and at the plate this second half. He has also come out and said he likes Altherr in center and would want to try Herrera in one of the corners, according to CSN. With the latter’s projected ceiling at the plate, this doesn’t bode well for his future with the organization.

For Maikel Franco, the future may be brighter, but the present hasn’t been as cheery. Franco has really struggled at times at the plate this season, taking a major step back from his half season in 2015. Despite a nice 21-homerun output, Franco has a slash line of just .246/.302/.436 as of August 15. Though a capable defender at the hot corner, that was never his calling card. Franco is in the Majors because of his power with a bat in his hands.

He too is very young for being a potential building block. Franco is just 23 and won’t hit free agency until 2022 at the earliest. This is what makes him (along with Herrera) so enticing. The feeling goes, if they are already this good this young, their future is nearly unlimited. That logic follows more closely with Franco than Herrera because of his ceiling as a hitter, which is also why there has been no similar talk about dealing Franco in the offseason.

It would be disappointing to see the team essentially give up on Herrera after he made such great strides from his first to his second season and is still so young. But teams are supposed to make these calls and determine whether or not they have gotten the most out of a former rule 5 draft acquisition. Whatever the case may be, it seems like Herrera isn’t building-block material, though that moniker still applies to his teammate Franco.

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