There's plenty of players to root for on the Phillies, but in the interest of the long-term health of the franchise, fans probably should root for Maikel Franco. The Phillies third baseman, at least on the offensive side of things, has the best raw talent and therefore the best upside on the team. Herrera may win batting titles, but Franco can win MVP awards.
As I've said before, this is a huge season for Franco. The Phillies brass value players who work the count, and Franco did not fit that criteria last season. In fact, he is possibly the one player on the team who least resembled their ideal hitter. And, with connections to the Baltimore Orioles and the money to acquire Manny Machado when he becomes a free agent after the 2018 season, the Phillies leash on their star player is not that long.
Perhaps aided by some light prodding from the suits, Franco started early morning workouts over the offseason and focused on getting his body in pristine baseball shape. He also worked tirelessly in the spring with new hitting coach Matt Stairs.
"I didn't change my approach," Franco said on Friday when asked about his slow start. "I just tried to see the ball and put contact on it."
In theory, Franco is right in that Matt Stairs never set out to change his aggressiveness. He focused more on getting Franco more relaxed at the plate.
They did, however, make one change to his approach. "I have to get more confident and concentrate on middle, middle, away," Franco said. "In batting practice, everything I hit is middle right field. That's what I want to work on and keep doing. Not try to pull everything. Just think about middle."
This is a huge, huge difference and a complete departure from his mind set last season.
As Matt Gelb pointed out, last year, Franco's "mind-set of simply just wanting to crush balls to right field affected his pitch recognition. He sat on inside pitches, which made him vulnerable and helped the strikeouts rack up."
Unfortunately, the results of his improved approach in 2017 were not there in the early going. Through his first 14 games, Franco batted .148 with 2 home runs and just 3 extra-base hits total. 14 games barely constitutes a blink in a long baseball season, but thoughts had to be creeping in that maybe his new mentality may not work. How long would it be before he ditched the advice of his hitting coach and reverted to his old ways, his safe place?
Well, Franco hung in there, and in his last six games prior to last night, Franco batted .391 with 2 homers and a double (he went 0-for-3 last night, but why ruin a good story), along with three walks against just one strikeout.
Six games does not a season make, but it is nice to see the results starting to show. His .136 BABIP after his first 14 games indicated his luck was bound to turn around sometime. His current .191 BABIP for the season is way below his career .270 rate, so there still is plenty of upside potential there.
It's not just his BABIP, though. Nearly all of his peripheral stats are above his career rate.
Franco's strikeout rate has decreased, while his walk rate has spiked. He is putting more balls in play (IP%), hitting more line drives (LD%), and hitting balls harder, with an exit velocity of 91.04 mph compared to 87.62 mph in his career.
It's not a stretch to say that Maikel Franco is having a career year.
"He's not missing good pitches to hit, manager Pete Mackanin said before Friday night's game against the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. "I think it's because he's working so much on staying up the middle more than anything."
Ignoring any of the numbers - good or bad - for the moment, Franco just has the appearance of a smarter, more disciplined, under control hitter. No more unnecessarily violent swings on inside pitches, and no more hips opening up on every swing. His helmet still flies off all the time, but that's just because dude hasn't figured out his head size yet or something - not sure what that's all about.
Since Franco came up, he always had the best chance of becoming a superstar. Unlike players like Freddy Galvis who need to sell out for more power, Franco can sell...in. Franco doesn't need to try to hit home runs. A slightly more controlled swing that produces more contact might be all he needs - his natural power can take over from there.
We are still just 21 games into the season (just 13%), but if Franco sticks with his approach, we might be talking about MVP potential before the season comes to a close.comments powered by Disqus