"As far as being an important year for Maikel," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said in December, "it's an important year because he's got a chance to show he's an elite player. What he did last year is good enough to play a long time in the big leagues, especially the with fact that we didn't have a lot of men on base or as many as we would like to have. He drove in 80-some runs and hit 25 home runs. But he's got a chance to be an elite hitter and I think for that reason it's important for him if he wants to prove that he's capable of being that kind of hitter."
Franco, 24, hit .255 with 25 home runs, 88 RBIs and a .733 OPS last season, which was his first full season in the big leagues. His OPS ranked 18th out of 20 qualified third basemen.
"I don't consider that a good year for him," Mackanin said. "Even though for most people it's a real good year. I expect a lot out of him. I think he's going to improve with experience. I think he's going to blossom into a perennial All-Star-caliber player."
Quite simply, Franco needs to hit better if he is going to be a part of the team's future.
He seemed to be swinging out of his shoes a lot last year, like he wanted to hit 500-foot home runs every time he stepped to the plate. Perhaps he felt the pressure of a struggling offense early in the season and never got out of the rut. He hit .306 with three home runs, 16 RBIs and an .801 OPS in 105 plate appearances in September and October, which was encouraging. But for Franco to be an All-Star third baseman he probably needs to post an .850 OPS or better.
If he can do that he could be headed to his first All-Star Game in July. And then the Phillies can say they have their first cornerstone third baseman since Scott Rolen.
Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.