SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Maikel Franco’s trademark dreadlocks are gone.
He’s mostly clean-shaven these days. If not for the full face and his ever-present smile, he would be unrecognizable.
But in some ways, he remains the same Franco who was once a rising star with the Phillies, new look and all. He still wants to hit the ball hard, and he knows his best chance of succeeding is with line drives, not ground balls.
The Royals might have found the solution and the approach to make it all work. Now, it’s up to the 27-year-old Franco to put their lessons into practice.
“From a mechanical standpoint, we are just trying to get him to stay behind the ball a little bit more and stay on his backside a little bit longer so he can drive the ball to all fields,” Royals hitting coach Terry Bradshaw said. “He’s had some success at this level, and we are just trying to get him back to those years that he had success. So far, everything has been great.”
Franco, who projects as the Royals’ everyday third baseman, is batting .273 this spring after he went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts Thursday afternoon in a 9-1 loss against the Rockies at Salt River Fields. He had a three-hit game Tuesday against the D-backs. Last season, Franco hit 17 home runs and had 56 RBIs with a .234 batting average with the Phillies.
“I’m just trying to get more line drives and fly balls than ground balls,” said Franco, who signed a one-year deal for $2.95 million with $1.05 million in performance bonuses in December. “I’ve been working a lot, and in the offseason I just tried to do my work and get better. Do it the right way to hit a line drive to the middle, line drives to the opposite way and hit more fly balls, too.”
Franco’s 80-game stint in 2015 was the highest line-drive rate of his career, 29.6%. It could be considered his best overall season as he established career highs in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, OPS and OPS+. However, his line-drive rate decreased every year since. In 2018, it was 20.1% and last season 20.2%.
“Obviously, it’s something we know about him, but it has not been anything we have dwelled on,” Bradshaw said. “We just come in and do our work, and when he uses his lower half, he will get the ball flight we want.”
For his career, Franco’s line-drive rate is 23% and his ground-ball rate is 46%. His numbers are comparable to the league averages for line drives (25%) and ground balls (46%), but a closer examination reveals the entire story. Of the 173 players had at least 300 batted balls last year, Franco’s line-drive rate tied for 166th.
“We use analytics, and it’s part of what we do,” Bradshaw said. “And in this case, it tells you he hits the ball on the ground a lot. But to me, my approach isn’t, ‘Hey, don’t hit the ball on the ground.’ For me, it’s more, ‘Hey, man, let’s stay on your legs a little bit longer and stay behind the ball -- you will catch the ball out front a little bit more and those ground balls will turn into fly balls.’”
It was Franco who initially brought up the subject of hitting more line drives to Bradshaw in one of their many conversations. It was Bradshaw who spun the conversation in a different direction. They are addressing Franco’s past by focusing on his present and future.
“We want to be positive in what we do, no matter the good or bad,” Bradshaw said. “We just want to see him go out and compete like he always does.”