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September 13, 2013

Notes from the Field

In Person: Miguel Sano vs. Maikel Franco

by Chris Mellen

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When going through the schedule each week and figuring out which games I am going to attend, I typically first look through the projected pitching rotations to see which arms I can line up. Due to the nature and timing of pitching, there’s a smaller window of opportunity to catch everything you need to see. The position players then usually fall into place from there. The final series of the season between Reading and New Britain was different, however. My main objective was to get my eyes on two prospects: Miguel Sano and Maikel Franco.

I’ve seen quite a bit of Sano since he signed with Minnesota, but it’s been in spring training and fall Instructs against low-minors competition. One of the big things I’ve been waiting to see is how his progressing hitting skills match up against more advanced arms. The reports on Franco have been intriguing, and it was my first opportunity to take a long look at the 21-year-old. With the chance to see both third base prospects on the field at the same time, it presented a chance to do some comparing and contrasting.

Defense: Neither Sano or Franco is likely going to be known for his defense. In game action, both were deliberate and didn’t look natural with their movements or reactions. There’s a lack of trust that shows in how robotic each can be. I give Sano the better chance to stick at the position based on his having more fluidity and his signs of development, but there’s still a good amount of defensive growth necessary for him to become average.

Franco’s slow first step, especially to his left, limited his range at the hot corner. My gut says it is more likely that he moves off the position in the long run, but my mind is still open. Both Sano and Franco featured plus-to-better arms, and showed no trouble in getting some steam behind their throws. Ideally, they’re arms you’d like to see stick at third and not move across the diamond.

Swing: Sano and Franco are fairly different here. Once Sano gets his hands started, he drives the head of the bat out to the ball and creates big extension with his arms. Subsequently, he handles balls out and over the plate. Sano lined a fastball slightly away and at the thighs; it resulted in an out, but illustrated how he covers the plate. His swing is quick enough to get the bat head out in front, while the weight stays on the back leg to keep his hips from clearing too soon to prevent carving it off. On the flip side, Sano’s swing leaves him prone to hard stuff on the inner half. A couple of low-90s fastballs got up quickly on his hands for foul balls, and he’s more apt to fight offerings off in this area.

Franco, on the other hand, drives his hands down more before getting extended. He’s also loose pulling them in. It was difficult getting middle-in past Franco, as he easily rifles the barrel through the zone. All of the hard contact he produced was in this area, including the inside fastball that he golfed off the top of the wall for a double and the changeup that he lined into left for a single. He squares the ball up very well with backspin in this zone. There was some inconsistency in wrapping the head of the bat, which led to weakness with balls out and over the plate. Franco’s swing is designed to get out in front quickly, and when he tried to adjust the path it was too late. Curveballs in this area especially gave him trouble, resulting in swinging strikes.

Overall: Presently, Franco is more settled than Sano when it comes to the speed of the game at the Double-A level. The 21-year-old was in better control of his plate appearances and forced pitchers to come to him. Franco will chase and expand his zone occasionally, but he was more relaxed at the plate and understood what opposing pitchers were trying to accomplish. He saw the ball well out of the hand. Sano appeared to still be figuring out what his strike zone needs to be. He also got impatient, at times seeming to have been dead-set on swinging regardless of what was being delivered. He saw a steady diet of breaking pitches, with quite a few chases.

Both Sano and Franco are major-league bats, though with different projections. I’d like to see Franco at the next step, but for now I feel he could eventually put up some seasons at peak as a .275-.280 hitter with 20-25 home runs. It will be interesting to see whether higher quality arms begin to use his aggressiveness at the plate against him. He typically picked on fastballs early in the count and also got away with swinging at pitches in spots that big-league arms fill with better stuff. I give Franco a reasonable edge when it comes to hit tool over Sano. The construct of Sano’s swing leads me to believe there are some holes that will always be exploitable, but his ability to crush mistakes his home run power will force pitchers to be extra fine with him. I see a .250-.260 hitter who can approach 40 home runs with consistency. The key is displaying more discipline at the plate and not falling into the trap of getting impatient because pitchers aren’t just grooving fastballs.

Franco is likely to track quicker to the majors, as he’s the more advanced of the two presently, but I see Sano ultimately being the more dangerous hitter, capable of more all-star seasons. I’ll be very interested to see Sano when he returns to Double-A, and to follow up on the adjustments he is making. I’ll be equally intrigued to catch Franco in Triple-A in 2014 to see how he’s handling more polished arms.

Chris Mellen is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Chris's other articles. You can contact Chris by clicking here

Related Content:  Minnesota Twins,  Scouting,  Minor Leaguers

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