Fantasy Baseball: Can Maikel Franco Emerge as a Top-10 Third Baseman in 2017?

The Phillies' talented slugger disappointed in 2016. Is there reason to believe that better days are ahead?

It really looked like Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco was going to bomb the hell out of the baseball last year.

After putting up on a 1.054 OPS last spring with 9 home runs while down in Clearwater, it appeared as if he had perennial 30-homer potential oozing out of him.

That's not what happened in 2016. After all, if you're using Spring Training stats to get excited about a player, you should be lightly tapped on the head with a tack hammer. However, predicting a great season from Franco didn't come out left field.

The Breakout That Didn't Happen

Franco hit .280/.343/.497 in 335 plate appearances in 2015 (his rookie season) while socking 14 dingers and 22 doubles for an OPS+ of 130 and an rWAR of 1.7. And after blitzing through the collection of Triple-A and other pitchers still getting ready for the regular season during Grapefruit League action last March, Franco did not follow with a great 2016 campaign.

In 152 games (630 plate appearances), he posted a triple slash of .255/.306/.427. His batting average dropped 25 points, his on-base percentage fell 37 points and his slugging percentage decreased by 50 points. His OPS fell from .840 to .733, and although he increased his homer total from 14 to 25, he hit only one more double (23) than he did in half the plate appearances the previous season.

His OPS+ went from 130 to 96 (league average is 100), and his rWAR dropped from 1.7 in half a season to 1.2 during his first full year as a big league player.

And yet, even in a down season, he still showed that some big-time power potential.

The Biggest Issue

Franco's main problem lies in his plate discipline. He swings early in the count, and when he does get into a hitter's count, he gets pull happy, resulting in weak contact.

Among 146 qualified Major Leaguers in 2016, he had the 30th-highest rate of pitches swung at out of the strike zone (34.5%) and only 16 hitters offered at more pitches inside the zone (74.4%). Despite all those swings, the young third baseman made contact with just 61.5% of his swings, 44th-least out of 146 players.

To top it all off, only 17 players went to the opposite field with less frequency than Franco (19.8%), and only 16 players had a higher soft-hit percentage (21.5%).

So, Franco was doing a lot of things wrong last year. However, he still mashed 25 homers and drove in 88 runs while hitting in the middle of a terrible lineup last year, which scored a league-low 610 runs in 2016.

Fantasy Outlook for 2017

Keeping Philadelphia's anemic offense from last year in mind, it's OK to be more optimistic about 2017. With the addition of competent hitters like Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders, Franco should feel less pressure to carry the team. That's not insignificant, given he's still just 24 years old.

He's also come into Spring Training in better shape, having lost weight to help him be more athletic. Franco also admitted coming to the plate without a plan for much of last year. That's usually not a good thing, but he says this year will be different.

“I love to hit and sometimes I get excited,” Franco said. “I am concentrating on being more selective and using the middle of the field, not trying to do too much.”

Third base is a loaded position in season-long fantasy, and it may just be the deepest position in baseball right now. It shouldn't be surprising that given his struggles last year, FantasyPros currently has Franco tabbed as the 17th third baseman coming off the board with an overall ADP of 139.

In a 12-team league, that's the middle of the 11th round. In our 14-team numberFire staff mock fantasy draft this week, Franco was the 14th third baseman taken at pick No. 131 overall, which was early in Round 10.

If he can put up the numbers he did in 2015 over a full season, he's a potential top-10 fantasy third baseman in 2017.

There's no reason to reach for him, but if you don't want to pay big money for a third baseman early on, he's a guy who could provide value later on.