.209 batting average. 6 home runs. .268 OBP. .617 OPS. 28 strikeouts. All of this through 46 games.
At first glance, this looks like the statistics of maybe a player who is in their first year in the big leagues struggling to find their footing. Look closer, though, and you will find that these stats are from a player that is seen as the big bopper in this lineup for years to come, third baseman Maikel Franco.
It’s obvious to anyone following this team that saying Maikel Franco has been a disappointment so far would be an understatement. The man who is supposed to be the leader of this offense has seemingly struck out in every clutch situation. Coming off a season in which Franco hit 25 HR’s and 88 RBI in his first full season in the Major Leagues, this was supposed to be his time to take off and become the 30-100 player that everyone believed he would and should be. At this rate, he won’t even reach 20 home runs.
Maikel Franco is 24 years old. He isn’t a seasoned veteran who should have already cemented himself as a very good major league player, but at the same time, a prospect as prized as him has different expectations than other players on a team that is so desperate to find those franchise cornerstones during their rebuild.
Take a player like Aaron Altherr for example. He hasn’t been pressured once to be that prized possession on this team. He has seemingly come out of nowhere to position himself as a player who is a huge part of this team’s future. Maybe the lack of pressure has helped him get to that point. On the contrary, maybe the pressure on a player like Franco is what is holding him back.
Maikel Franco first burst onto the scene with the big club in 2015, after a small cup of coffee in 2014 which showed that he wasn’t exactly ready to make the leap. In his extended time with the Phils in 2015, he played in 80 games, batting at a .280 clip in 304 at-bats with 14 home runs, 50 RBI and an .840 OPS. In about half a season, he produced numbers that would have doubled to 28 home runs and 100 RBI. Therefore, the following season which saw him entrenched as the Phillies Opening Day third baseman would be his time to put those numbers together to prove he can be that almost 30-100 player. He got close, as he was a 25-80 player through 152 games. At the time, he was still 23 years old, so it wasn’t the end of the world that he didn’t reach that 30-100 plateau on a team that is still on the rise. Now in his 3rd year as the man at the hot corner, though, the expectations sky rocketed.
Franco looked poised to finally become that star that he should be heading into this year following a red hot spring training. He was amongst the league leaders in home runs during the Phillies exhibition schedule, and all of his home runs were moon shots. Coming into the year, parts of the staff such as Pete Mackanin and the legendary Mike Schmidt put the expectations high for Franco, saying that he could hit .300 and be amongst the candidates for MVP in short time. For a player who turns just 25 this August, it’s a lot to put on his shoulders. Maybe he just isn’t ready to be that guy.
It makes you think of some old dude named Ryan Howard. When Ryan Howard made his MLB debut in 2004, he was 24 years old. Maikel Franco is currently 24 years old. The next season, Howard made his presence known as the Phillies new first baseman, hitting 22 home runs and 63 RBI in 88 games, all at the age of 25. Franco isn’t 25 until a couple months from now. In Howard’s third season, his first full season as a major leaguer, all he did was hit 58 home runs with 149 RBI. They gave him some dumb trophy called the MVP of the National League, no big deal. He was 26 years old. Franco won’t be 26 until August of next season. If Franco follows the same path as a Phillies legend like Howard, then maybe next season is the one that we have all been waiting for. The difference between the two, though, is that Howard looked promising through a half of a season and turned it into an MVP campaign the following full season. Maikel took his promising half of a season, turned it into his 25-88 season of last year, and then followed that up with this sorry performance so far this year.
As optimistic as we all want to be with Maikel Franco, it’s getting pretty exhausting waiting for him to take off. It would be different if he was hitting maybe around his .250 clip that he did last year. It would be different if he wasn’t seemingly striking out in every clutch situation he is placed in. The fact of the matter is, though, that this is all happening as we speak. Right now, he is looking out of place.
There have been rumblings of the front office and the coaching staff considering a demotion to Triple-A for the Phils third baseman and primary cleanup hitter for most of this season. Would it be that farfetched to send him down and let him get his mind back together? It might not be that bad of an idea.
It will be interesting watching Franco and the rest of the Phillies in June. We all know how putrid of a month of May that this has been for this club. It seems like the awful play is just contagious. From the starting rotation all the way down to the offense, the struggles have been well documented. Maybe the turning of the calendar can turn the page on the 2017 Phillies story. The May chapter was one of the worst that we have seen in recent memory. Hopefully the June chapter turns this story into something to be proud of. Maikel Franco will be a huge part of that turnaround. He could be the catalyst for this group of players who so desperately need things to come around and point them in a positive direction for the future.
Stay with this team, guys. It hurts now, but it will be worth it in the end, or at least we really, really hope so.
Photo: raymondclarkeimages (Via: Flickr)
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