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March 18, 2019

Phillies preview: Maikel Franco will be valuable bat in Phillies revamped lineup

Over the last two weeks of spring training, the Phillies turn their prep work to get ready for the regular season into overdrive.

We'll do the same thing here at PhillyVoice. As the March 28 season opener against the Braves approaches, we'll break down everything you need to know to get ready for one of the most anticipated Phillies seasons ever.

Let's take a look at third base...

Maikel Franco was once a top Phillies prospect who has become a mainstay in the big league lineup, manning third base for more than 130 games per season over the last three campaigns.

He remains a polarizing figure.

The 26-year-old infielder spent much of the offseason wondering what his fate might be, as the Phillies danced around the possibility of signing Manny Machado to play third base — all but putting Franco out of a job and on the trade block.

The Phillies went with Bryce Harper instead, sparing Franco for the time being. 

He is an inconsistent hitter who can get hot and be dynamic and productive, but Franco's also been known to slump. He's a below average defender with personality and has spent most of his career batting in the middle of a subpar Phillies lineup. With the revamped offense in toe for 2019, Franco will have much less pressure as he hits in the 6-to-8 spot in the batting order.

It's an opportunity for him to shine.

Scouting report

Depending on how you measure it, Franco had his best offensive year in the majors last year, hitting for .270 with 22 homers and 68 RBI. While none of those stats are career highs, 2018 was the first year he put together hitting for average and power while limiting strikeouts. With some added protection in the Phils lineup, Franco will have more pitches to hit later in the order and is a good bet to post similar numbers in 2019.

Defensively, however, Franco will need to turn things around. Last season was his worst ever with the glove, costing the Phils a net loss of 12 runs in 117 games at third base. He does have the ability to play third in the bigs — he led all third basemen in putouts in 2017, and a year earlier he ranked fifth in his position in fielding percentage. But he's slipped in both categories.

Like the rest of Philly's returning position players, sound defense is a top priority. 

NL East ranking

Despite Franco's extensive big league experience, he's hardly the biggest name manning the hot corner in the NL East. Former MVP Josh Donaldson will assume the position with the Braves this year, looking to bounce back to his 2013-2017 form (when he received MVP votes every year). Anthony Rendon will become the centerpiece of the Nationals' Harper-less offense after a third straight season of at least 20 home runs, 20 doubles, 80 runs and 80 RBI in 2018. The Mets will rely on Todd Frazier, a two-time All-Star and former Rookie of the Year, when he is healthy (he is currently recovering from an oblique injury) — and have insurance in young slugger J.D. Davis.

And then, of course, the rebuilding Marlins, who will take their chances on second-year returnee Brian Anderson (3.8 WAR in 2018).

Here's how the division will play out at third:

Third baseman 2018 stats2019 proj  Career WAR
PHI Maikel Franco (26).270, 22 HR
48 R, 68 RBI
.251, 20 HR
53 R, 65 RBI
ATLJosh Donaldson (33).246, 8 HR
30 R, 23 RBI
.261 17 HR
50 R, 47 RBI
WASAnthony Rendon (28).308 24 HR
88 R, 92 RBI
.285, 20 HR
76 R, 81 RBI
NYMTodd Frazier (33).213, 18 HR
54 R, 59 RBI
.216, 22 HR
60 R, 63 RBI
MIABrian Anderson (25).273, 11 HR
87 R, 65 RBI
.268, 10 HR
69 R, 65 RBI

Through the first four Phillies positions we previewed, it seemed clear Philadelphia had an advantage. At third base, they will likely be toward the back of the pack as far as the NL East goes.

Phillies' future

Franco is set to make $5.2 million this season, his first arbitration eligible season. He's under team control for two more years and the Phillies will likely retain or trade him if they find a better option at third base.

Alex Bohm, last year's first round pick, plays third base and is the team's top ranked prospect. He's 22 and is already a pretty fully formed player having been drafted out of Wichita State. Don't be surprised if, at some point before Franco is out of team control, Bohm makes a push to replace him as an everyday third baseman.

At least that's what the front office hopes.

Phillies season preview
C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | RF | CF | LF | SP | RP | Bench | Coach

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