Unless you’ve followed the Braves’ minor league system closely in recent years, and by closely we mean paid attention to more than just prospects, then you might be asking who is this Carlos Franco who’s been crushing baseballs for the big club early in spring training.
Franco had a double and his second homer of spring in Tuesday’s win against the Blue Jays to raise his average to .267, with a bloated .800 slugging percentage in seven games through Wednesday’s day off for the Braves. His four hits included no singles.
He was 4-for-15 with two doubles, two homers, one walk and six strikeouts for a .313 OBP and a 1.113 OPS -- rather unusual stats albeit in an extremely small sample size.
So, who is he?
Franco is a 26-year-old Dominican first baseman and third baseman who’s been in the Braves organization nearly nine years. He had an unexpected power surge last season when he rang up 21 homers in 134 games between Double-A and Triple-A – more homers than he hit in any two seasons combined before 2017.
He’s a late bloomer who’s listed as 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, but looks about an inch taller and has a chiseled physique.
His .243 career average .323 OBP and .684 OPS in more than 2,800 at-bats across 825 minor league games suggest a journeyman who might be headed for independent-league ball. But Franco gained notice with his 21-homer season and eventually was invited to major league camp, where he has displayed the thump in his bat and a smooth stroke that hitting coach Kevin Seitzer admired while watching him take batting cage Tuesday morning.
“He originally wasn’t in the camp, and I brought him in just to help with the workload,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said, “and we’re seeing in some batting practices the power that the guy has. Who knows? A kid like that comes in and gets notices, now maybe you’re not so hesitant if something happens during the season and you need help, at least he’s made a good impression.”
He’s not on the 40-man roster, and the Braves have several roster players competing for the third-base job and final bench spots, so there still seems little chance that Franco would thrust himself into the competition for an opening-day roster spot.
But if the Braves had an injury or traded someone during the season, who knows? Franco might have a chance if he keeps hitting like he did for much of last season and in the first two weeks of spring games.
Franco was rated by one service as the Braves’ No. 13 prospect before the 2013 season, but had long since fallen off the radar among prospect-watchers. This is a guy who played parts of four seasons of rookie ball before making it to Single-A ball in 2013, then didn’t reach Triple-A until last summer when promoted after suddenly displaying big power in the first couple of months at Double-A Mississippi.
He hit .293 with 11 homers and a .918 OPS in just 41 games (150 at-bats) at Mississippi, the 11 homers matching his previous career best of 11 homers in 134 games at high-A Carolina in 2015.
It got him his first promotion to Triple-A Gwinnett, where Franco hit only .232 with a .675 OPS, though he did have 10 more homers. He hit his 21st and final homer of the season Aug. 25 at Gwinnett, then went 1-for-33 with one RBI and 11 strikeouts in his final nine games. For the season he hit a combined .252 with a .754 OPS and had 142 strikeouts with 48 walks in 461 at-bats.