Prospect Watch: Franco's potential call-up, Baez finds his rhythm
The prospect call-up freeze may soon thaw with the Super Two deadline fast approaching, but the first beneficiary may owe just as much to an injury as to front office machinations.
With Cody Asche hitting the DL, the Phillies could very well turn to third base prospect Maikel Franco to fill the void. Franco, the No. 17 prospect entering the 2014 season according to Baseball America, is the top prospect in the Philadelphia organization and third-ranked at the position, trailing only Minnesota's Miguel Sano (who is rehabbing an elbow injury) and the Cubs' Kris Bryant. His major league ETA was expected to be 2014, and that looks like all but a guarantee at this point.
Despite his top pedigree, Franco has struggled with Triple-A Lehigh Valley this year. He's hitting just .231/.311/.358 with four homers in 193 plate appearances. However, he has turned it around in May, hitting .301 with an .871 OPS. Scouts grade Franco's hit tool as a 60 on the 20-80 scale. His power, which is his calling card, is a 70. He also projects as an above-average defender at third at the major league level, thanks primarily to decent lateral quickness and a great arm.
Asche is dealing with a hamstring injury that also afflicted him in April, though it didn't require a DL stint at the time. It's an injury that has a way of lingering, which means Franco could be in the majors in the not too distant future. Given that Asche is hitting a mediocre .258/.346/.425 and the Phillies don't appear to be a realistic playoff contender, they have every reason to give the 21-year-old Franco an extended look at third. That makes him worth a stash in most formats.
We just talked about the Cubs' Javier Baez in this space last week, but he has had such a dramatic turnaround in the last few weeks that it warrants highlighting. Baez earned Pacific Coast League Offensive Player of the Week honors for the week of May 19-25 after raking to the tune of a .400/.419/.900 slash line with nine extra-base hits. He followed that up by going 3-for-4 with two doubles on Monday. And to think, this is all before coming under the tutelage of Manny Ramirez.
Baez is now up to .225/.287/.437 with seven homers, nine doubles and 25 RBI this season. Even though he's one of the hottest hitters in the minors, don't expect a promotion any time soon. Cubs GM Jed Hoyer recently discussed the value in a player going through struggles and having to make adjustments at one level before moving on to the next. Now that the 21-year-old has started to turn things around, the Cubs will likely want to see him hit well at Triple-A Iowa for some time before they consider bringing him to the North Side of Chicago.
The rash of pitcher injuries has not stopped at the majors this year. The Royals' Kyle Zimmer, who was Baseball America's No. 23 prospect at the start of the season, suffered a setback while rehabbing bicep tendinitis last week. He was forced to cut short a session facing live hitters in extended spring training with back tightness, and a further examination of the injury revealed a right lat strain. The Royals announced on Tuesday that he'd be shut down for six to eight weeks.
In a perfect world, Zimmer would make his major league debut this year. He split his 2013 season between High-A Wilmington and Double-A Northwest Arkansas, and was quite good in his brief time at the higher level, putting up a 1.93 ERA, 2.68 FIP and 27 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings. While he had an ERA near 5.00 at Wilmington, his FIP was down at 3.27 and he fanned 113 batters in 89 2/3 frames. There's little doubt he has frontline stuff thanks to an already great fastball and curveball. Scouts also believe his slider and changeup could become plus offerings.
Unfortunately for Zimmer and the Royals, time is running out for him this year. The six-to-eight week timetable puts a comeback in mid-July at the absolute earliest, with early August a lot more realistic. It's almost impossible to fathom the team pushing him to the majors given that he doesn't even have 20 innings of experience above High-A. At this point, Kansas City likely hopes he can be healthy enough to at least get some actual game time in this season, be it at Northwest Arkansas or Triple-A Omaha. He should be on fantasy owners' radar for 2015, but those of you in redraft leagues can forget about him for this season.