Rookie Phenom Maikel Franco Gives Phillies the Next Franchise Centerpiece

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterJune 29, 2015

USA Today

The Philadelphia Phillies are such a mess that when their manager quit last week, their players barely seemed to care. They're such a mess that they recently went out in search of someone to fix the situation (hello, Andy MacPhail).

There's going to be a new manager in place of Ryne Sandberg, and you've got to believe there's going to be a new general manager, too. They're going to need a whole bunch of new players.

It's going to take time, but it's far from an impossible task. The Phillies should add some real talent when they finally trade Cole Hamels.

And they already have a guy who should be the star of the future. Maybe the star of the present, too.

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

Maikel Franco is breaking in with a Phillies team that is awful, but so did Mike Schmidt (who debuted with a 97-loss club in 1972). So did Jimmy Rollins (who debuted with a 97-loss squad in 2000).

Franco actually debuted last September, with a club that was on the way to 89 losses. He's getting plenty familiar with losing this year, but at 22, he's young enough to become part of the next Phillies winner.

Plenty good enough, too.

He's "a legitimate middle-of-the-order bat," said one rival scout who has followed Franco's career since 2013, when he homered 16 times in just 65 games at Single-A Clearwater. "He has great bat speed, and great power to all fields. The first at-bat I ever saw him take, he hit it over the Tiki Bar in left field [in Clearwater]. The next at-bat, he hit it off the right field wall."

The National League is starting to see the same thing. And the American League, too, because when he homered three times and drove in 10 runs in back-to-back games last week, it was at Yankee Stadium.

He was the first Phillie to drive in five runs in consecutive games, the first Yankee opponent to drive in five runs in consecutive games and one of only five active players with two straight five-RBI games anywhere. The other four: Alex Rodriguez, Bryce Harper, Robinson Cano and Carlos Beltran.

Franco spent the first five weeks of the season in the minor leagues, but he's still driven in more runs than any Phillie but Ryan Howard. Franco had been in the big leagues less than a month this season when Sandberg moved him to the third spot in the lineup. When Sandberg resigned last Friday, interim manager Pete Mackanin kept Franco in the same spot.

The Phillies seem to know what they have. Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com related a conversation between Phillies bench coach Larry Bowa and Reds first base coach Billy Hatcher.

"We've got a stud at third!" Bowa told Hatcher.

There have been times when the Phillies and others wondered if Franco would stay at third. For all his talent, Franco is not fast, and Salisbury writes that the Phillies had thoughts of making him a catcher. Others thought he might end up at first base (where he played twice last week).

The scout who has followed Franco's career insists he'll be fine at third because of his great hands, quick feet and a "cannon" arm.

No matter what, it seems certain that Franco will be a fixture in the Phillies lineup as it evolves over the next few years. The Phillies aren't loaded with big prospects, but with Franco and shortstop J.P. Crawford (currently at Double-A Reading), they should have the left side of the infield covered.

Jun 26, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco (7) unsuccessfully throws to first on a bunt single by Washington Nationals center fielder Michael Taylor (not pictured) during the fifth inning at Citizens Bank Park.
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Teams can turn around quickly in this baseball era, especially clubs with the financial resources the Phillies have. The Tigers went from 119 losses to the World Series in just three years, and they didn't have anyone on the 2003 team who was as promising as Franco is now.

They didn't have anyone with Hamels' trade value, either.

Look at the Phillies now, and it's hard to imagine they could be a World Series team in three years, or even twice that. But look at Maikel Franco now, and it's easy to imagine that he'll be a big part of the next Phillies team that wins.

Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball. 

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