What the Nats can expect of projected starting 3B Maikel Franco

Maikel Franco

The Nationals made their third round of spring training cuts Monday and left themselves with six healthy infielders still in camp.

Josh Bell and César Hernández are firmly entrenched in the starting first and second base positions, respectively, while the demotion of 21-year-old Luis García to Triple-A cemented Alcides Escobar’s place as the top option at shortstop. Dee Strange-Gordon and Ehire Adrianza have the versatility to play all over the diamond, making them logical choices as utility players off the bench.

That leaves non-roster invitee Maikel Franco as the favorite to win the third base job. Washington originally signed him to compete with former top prospect Carter Kieboom for the spot, but both a mass flexor strain and UCL strain to his right elbow forced the Nationals to place him on the 60-Day Injured List. As a result, Franco has a clear path to regular playing time for at least the first month of the season.

Franco, 29, signed a minor-league deal with the Nationals in December after being released by the Baltimore Orioles in August last year. Though the Braves picked him up down the stretch, he never made it back to the majors. The Dominican native spent the first six years of his career with the Philadelphia Phillies, putting together three 20-homer seasons but never reached base enough to earn a place in the then-rebuilding club’s long-term plans.

As their likely starting third baseman in 2022, the Nationals can expect Franco to hit a lot of groundballs with the occasional flash of power. The right-hander batter hits predominantly to the pull side, which means he often faces the shift with little success. Franco’s .454 OPS against the shift in 2021 was fifth-worst in baseball among players with at 100 such plate appearances, according to FanGraphs.


While Franco doesn’t strike out often, he still chases a lot of pitches outside the zone and struggles to draw walks. He had a lot of trouble with breaking balls last year, hitting .191 off them compared to a .244 batting average against fastballs. Twenty of his 33 extra-base hits in 2021 came off fastballs. The numbers suggest he’s due for a bounce-back season, but a slow start could mean manager Davey Martinez pivots to Adrianza at third base until Kieboom returns to the fold.

On defense, Franco has consistently graded out as a below-average fielder. His lack of speed limits his range and he won’t fill the highlight reel with flashy plays very often. He has 35 career fielding errors and 40 throwing errors (-36 Defensive Runs Saved), so neither side of his game sticks out as a particular strength.

Should Franco hit around .250 with a .750 OPS and pace for 20-25 home runs — as he did in his best seasons with the Phillies in 2016 and 2018 — there will be a market for the Nationals to trade him at the deadline for a lower-tier prospect should they fall out of the running for a playoff spot. They signed him to a no-risk minors deal and fetching any kind of return for him would be considered a success.

For now, Franco is the best bet to open the season as the Nationals’ starting third baseman. Tempered expectations are par for the course when a non-roster invitee breaks camp with a team.