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After Fast Start, Franco Needs to Kick it Back Into Gear

As Orioles general manager Mike Elias sought to add talent to the organization whilst in the middle of a deep and lengthy renovation job, one of the avenues he’s taken frequently is picking up flamed out prospects from other organizations.

Take Rio Ruiz, for example. The former top prospect from the Atlanta Braves never panned out in Atlanta but got a chance to revive his career in Baltimore in 2019. So far, Ruiz has been nothing more than a stopgap infielder who will likely be jettisoned once some of the Orioles’ infield prospects arrive at the major league level.

The Orioles took a flier on another talented infielder this offseason in Maikel Franco. At one point, Franco was a top-100 prospect in the Phillies organization. Since then, Franco was demoted and non-tendered in 2019 and non-tendered again in 2020 by the Royals.

So late this spring, the Orioles took a chance on Franco as an option at third base. For a bit, it seemed like Franco was going to solidify his spot in the lineup for the rest of the season. But lately, Franco is becoming more and more of a liability.

Through April, Franco’s OPS stood at .708, a mediocre but respectable number. Since the turn of the calendar, however, Franco has just three hits. And only one of those was for extra bases. Franco’s May slump has tanked his overall OPS to .599.

Franco’s statcast profile doesn’t explain away his struggles, it reinforces them. Franco ranks among the league’s worst in expected batting average, expected slugging percentage and barrel percentage. His average exit velocity on balls in play also ranks well below average.

While Franco’s struggles at the plate have come more recently, his shortcomings on defense have been on display from the start. Aside from his five errors — which is tied for fourth worst in the majors — Franco also has a minus-4 outs above average at third base and a minus-2 defensive runs saved.

It’s only mid-May, and there is still time for Franco to prove his worth. But his anemic offensive production, lack of defensive ability and versatility and age puts him on notice. As bad as Ruiz has been this year at the plate, Ruiz can play both third base and second base and plays far better than Franco at both spots.

There are minor leaguers who could threaten a call-up this summer. Utility man Jahmai Jones will assuredly play in Baltimore this season after some time at Triple-A Norfolk. Rylan Bannon, who plays second and third base, might also find himself in the big leagues this season. Even a call-up for shortstop Richie Martin would put Franco at risk.

We’ve seen a ton of roster moves on the pitching side this season, and the roster volatility is bound to impact the offense this summer. Baltimore has very little invested in Franco, so moving on from him won’t hurt the balance sheet all that much.

Franco needs to find his swing and find it fast. He doesn’t have the benefit of being a prized prospect anymore like Ryan Mountcastle, who has seemingly put his early season offensive struggles behind him. Just as quickly as Franco came in March, he can go just as fast.

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Tuesday, 22 June 2021
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