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“Round Robinson”: It’s Finally Sunny in Philadelphia

Perhaps sunny is an optimistic term if you’re a Philly sports fan. The past 12 months haven’t exactly been stellar. But you do get to look forward to another #3 overall pick in the draft for the Sixers. That’s, um… huge and… ooh, yeah this is a tough sell.

Tim-Tebow-Eagles-jpgWait, how could I forget…

YOU’VE GOT TEBOW!!!

No? Still not buying it? Yeah, can’t blame you. It’s tough to feel any kind of brotherly love with these teams. Hell, two of your biggest baseball names (Hamels and Papelbon) are rumored to be outta there as soon as an appealing offer comes across the wire. If only the same could be said for Ryan Howard.

But for a team whose best offensive contributor in fantasy so far has been Freddy Galvis (gulp), a breath of fresh air swept southeast Pennsylvania last weekend. Maikel Franco, the 22-year-old Dominican slugger, got the return call to the bigs, and so far he’s been as impressive as one could hope.

I’ve been waiting for some time to see this move made. I thought, after seeing Franco play a few games at first base at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, the plan might’ve been for him to take over for Howard if and when Philadelphia shipped him off. Unfortunately (for Phils fans especially), “if” never became “when” and Howard still idles over first.

However, when Cody Asche was demoted last week to transition to the outfield, it became clear that the Franco call up was imminent. Sure enough, he made his 2015 debut last Friday and proceeded to go 0-for-4, yet I still took something positive away from that night.

Franco was slotted fifth that night, right behind Howard. He’s been there every game so far. A recent call up could do much worse than batting in the middle of the order every single night, even if it is as part of one of the shakiest lineups in the league. Franco’s outlook will only be helped by see those around him pick up their production. Here’s looking at you, Chase Utley. I tend to believe Utley will get it ironed out to a degree. You can only maintain a .147 BABIP for so long.

Despite that 0-fer last Friday, Franco’s been rock solid since, going 7-for-23 with a HR and 5 RBI in six games. That HR was the first of what should be many in his big league career. Unfortunately for Franco, it will always be remembered for one Phillies’ fan showing off his true douchebaggery…

Those five RBI already match Franco’s total from 2014 in 58 AB. Although the power and run production is for real and should only grow, that average is a total mirage. I say that being well aware of Franco’s .355 average at Lehigh Valley this year. This is a case of needing to look further back in the profile. Not much further, just last season. Franco hit 100 points lower at Triple-A, sporting a .257/.299/.428 triple slash. That OBP sticks out like a sore thumb, but therein lies one of Franco’s biggest issues. The man has yet to learn how to take a walk.

051515_Franco_600Keep in mind that the MLB average for BB-rate is 7.7%, and Franco only hit that figure once in his minor league career (2010 – Low A Ball). Last year at Lehigh Valley, Franco walked just 30 times in 556 PA, or 5.4% of the time. In 2015, it’s been more of the same with a 5.3% BB-rate. Patience is a skill the youngster will have to develop.

Some also will have you believe his propensity for striking out is a red flag, but I’m not all that concerned. Despite fanning 13 times in those 58 PA for Philadelphia last year, to me this was a one-off. Since 2012, Franco hasn’t had a full season K-rate in the minors higher than 14.6%, and that most certainly plays in today’s whiff-happy MLB. That K-rate will jump as he now faces the best of the best, but I can live with anything under a 20% clip just fine.

What will define Franco’s 2015 value will be his power potential. In 2013, Franco clubbed 31 HR and drove in 89 between High-A and Double-A ball. He’s only hit 21 across all levels since which will make some believe his ceiling is lower than others. I’m not in that camp, and I’m inclined to believe the optimistic ZiPS projection that has Franco hitting 15 more home runs in 2015. Toss in a .260 BA and roughly 55 RBI and you’ve got a useful 3B or CI. For those in OBP or OPS leagues, you guessed it. Drop him a notch or two until he learns to take those walks.

Where’s that put Maikel Franco ranking-wise? For standard leagues, I think he should be around the 20-22 range, making him a worthwhile pickup for those who need a little power pick-me-up at their corner infield spot or even a UTIL position. I can’t endorse him over guys like A-Rod, Alvarez or even David Wright (still a believer). But against Josh Harrison or Chase Headley types, I say take the plunge. It’s a risk/reward play, but for those making pickups like this nearly at the quarter pole, the reward could be exactly what you need.

 

 

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