How Long Can Cody Asche Hold Off Maikel Franco in Philadelphia?

Will Maikel Franco get hot enough this spring to take over the hot corner in Philadelphia?

For baseball fans, Spring Training is a time of increasing temperatures and anticipation for the upcoming season. For baseball players, it's a time of increasing pressure and stakes as many are playing for their future.

Spring Training isn't only a time for players to get back into shape and ready for the upcoming season, but it's also an opportunity for many players to earn their place, whether that's a spot in the starting lineup or a seat to keep warm on the bench.

And it's an "if not now, when?" scenario right now for the Phillies and their potential third basemen, as current third basemen, Cody Asche, is obviously not the long-term answer for the team and blue-chip prospect Maikel Franco may be what it takes to put more fans in Citizen Bank Park's seats.

According to the Phillies' official depth chart, the three possible suitors for third base are the incumbent Cody Asche, top prospect Maikel Franco and utility man Freddy Galvis. To quickly narrow this competition down to two players, the Phillies' depth chart also has Galvis listed as their starting (and only) shortstop.

So who should take the third base job? Let's take a look.

Cody Asche

Ever since Cody Asche made his big league debut in 2013, he has been labeled as a "placeholder" for the next big thing. It was a matter of if, not when, and unfortunately for Asche, he hasn't done much to convince manager Ryne Sandberg that he should keep his job.

Total 5596115680.2470.697

While he didn't have enough at-bats to qualify, if he had, Asche would have been the 20th-ranked third baseman in the Majors in terms of on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS). His .252 batting average and .699 OPS are almost identical to the 2014 league averages of .251 and .700, respectively. He also averaged a home run every 39.7 at-bats, which is slightly worse than league average of 37.5. To put it simply, Asche is an average player who is easily replaceable.

Since he only has 559 total at-bats in the Majors, it may be more beneficial to look at his minor league numbers. In 1,263 minor league plate appearances, Asche batted .290 with only 33 home runs and an OPS of .796. If his .796 OPS was his 2014 value, it would have ranked 38th among qualified batters. These numbers are solid, but not spectacular and it may indicate that he is better suited for a back-up role.

In terms of fielding, Asche would also be classified as subpar. Out of 25 qualified third basemen, he ranked 24th in fielding percentage with a rate of .943. And out of 159 third basemen, he finished 116th with -0.3 defensive wins above replacement.

There has been talk of moving Asche to the outfield to help fill the void that the recently traded Marlon Byrd created. While Phillies' GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has been quoted saying Asche will be their starting third basement on Opening Day, his lackluster career production and the team's need for depth in the outfield may ultimately number Asche's days at third, especially if he has a disappointing spring.

Maikel Franco

Baseball America's number 17 prospect in 2014, Maikel Franco, got his first taste of the big leagues in 2014. In 56 at-bats, Franco struggled to the tune of a .179 batting average and a .404 OPS with zero long balls. It's apparent that the 22-year-old was not quite ready for the Majors last fall, however a sizzling winter league might have convinced the Phillies brass to give him another long look this spring. In 22 playoff games in the Dominican Winter League, Franco hit a spectacular .337 with 4 home runs and 16 RBI.

It seems like Franco has been around forever, as he started his professional career at the age of 17 in the Phillies' rookie league. Over the past five years, he has developed into a top prospect and one of the few bright spots of the Phillies' organization.

201118A-, A267253440.2470.677
201219A, FgW5047014840.2800.774
201320FgW, A+, AA696107341170.2990.858
Total  2182289693520.2710.764

Franco broke out in a big way in 2013 when he hit 34 homers and drove in 114 runs while batting .299, as he ascended through the Phillies' minor league ranks. Having earned another promotion, Franco played most of his 2014 season in AAA Lehigh Valley as an Iron Pig. While his final stat line looks like a step back from the year before, it's skewed by his first-half struggles as he tried to adapt to more advanced pitching. In the second half of 2014, Franco went on an absolute tear, hitting .309 with four more home runs in about half the at-bats compared to the first half. Here's a quick glance at Franco's 2014 in AAA:

Pre-All-Star Break343386420.2300.649
Post-All-Star Break1782610360.3090.877

This is a positive sign for the future as it shows he can adapt and develop relatively quickly to tougher pitchers. While his time in Philadelphia last September was a struggle, with more at-bats his true potential should come out. If Franco gets enough at-bats this spring, we all might see that potential much sooner in Philly.

The only obstacle in Franco's way to the Phillies' starting third base job is his Super Two Status. As Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly reports, if the Phillies keep Franco in the minors for a minimum of 40 days, they would delay his first year of free agency until after the 2021 season. Considering the Phillies are in a rebuilding phase and are currently sellers, it would make much more sense for them to keep Franco in Lehigh Valley until mid-May or so.

While Franco has a lot more talent and potential than Asche, I expect the Phillies to keep him in the minors until his super two deadline passes. By doing this, they'll gain an extra year of control when Franco's in his prime and when the Phillies may have a chance at another World Series. However, if he dominates this spring like he did in the winter, he might end up forcing the Phillies' hand.