Asche and Franco Battle at the Hot Corner

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One of the more fascinating situations to watch during 2015 Phillies spring training has been the position battle at 3rd base between Cody Asche and Maikel Franco.

With Ryan Howard looking like he wants to prove that he still has something left, Franco is blocked from any slide over to 1st base for now. And though the club talked in winter about getting Asche some leftfield playing time, that is not materializing.

So the two young players are left pitted against one other in a direct competition to start at 3rd base, both in the immediate short term of the 2015 season, and in the long term of the Phillies rebuilding future.

Bringing 559 at-bats of experience to the table, Asche has hit .247 with 68 RBI and 15 homeruns in his short career. He has been basically just an average player thus far in the majors, nothing to get excited about, and seems to have reached his ceiling. But his experience appears to give him a slight present edge.

Franco, on the other hand, has been the sexy name for the future of the Phillies hot corner ever since his brilliant 2013 season. He was on an absolute tear that year, hitting for a .320 average, with 31 homers and 103 RBIs between stops at Single-A Clearwater and Double-A Reading.

Last year, Franco was promoted to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He slowed down and hit only .257, with 16 homers and 78 RBIs. Still, it’s not a bad performance from a 21-year old at Triple-A. Earning a September call-up, Franco hit .179 with 5 RBI and 1 walk in 56 at-bats. He followed that up with an excellent winter league campaign.

On merit alone, the stage was set for an epic showdown between the two this spring. However, not all roster decisions are based solely on merit. If the Phillies wait to promote Franco until mid-May, they would gain an extra year of contract control.

For a franchise that will most likely not compete this year, they would be very wise to save Franco for a few weeks in Triple-A, and pick up that extra seventh year of control, when they do expect to be fighting for the division crown again.

David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News does an excellent job explaining the situation here.

If the Phillies are smart, the positional battle should not culminate as spring winds down towards Opening Day, but actually will heat up in mid-May. Asche will have a month or so to prove that he is very capable of holding his own in the majors, while Franco will need to show that Triple-A is almost too easy for him.

For him to break into the league, he needs to hit for an average and use the whole field.” ~ Sandberg on Franco

In the meantime, the battle continues to shape up in these Grapefruit League games.

So far, neither has done much to inspire great excitement. In 29 at-bats, Franco has hit a mere .207 with no homers, a single rbi, and no walks. Asche has not been much better; hitting .250 with 2 RBIs and 1 walk over 24 at-bats. If either gets hot, the full-time job could be there’s by May.

In a recent CBS Sports article, Manager Ryne Sandberg commented on Franco’s troubles, stating, “For him to break into the league, he needs to hit for an average and use the whole field, in my opinion… That’s what has been talked about with him. He looks like he’s overswinging. He needs to make some adjustments… I saw some of the same approaches and same swings last year in September.”

Based on Sandberg’s evaluation, Franco is basically still just a young kid trying to find his way to the bigs, and will need to be willing to make a few small changes in order to be successful at making that transition.

Asche has had a much more fascinating spring when you look beyond the stat sheet.  The Phillies are preparing their options for Asche should he get bumped by Franco. According to an Allentown Morning Call report, Asche performed outfield drills when he arrived in Clearwater this spring.

Back in February, Asche stated, “I want to be as versatile as I can… I want to play this game as long as I can. You don’t want to close any doors early in your career. As long they have an open mind and I have an open mind, why not?”

Another interesting tidbit from that article was a comment from Sandberg: “He’ll get 95 percent of his work at third base [during camp]… I want him to be ready to play third base on Opening Day.”

That goes to suggest that the Phillies do indeed plan on making Asche their Opening Day 3rd baseman, and expect to wait and see what happens with the Franco situation.

Asche had his spring interrupted just over a week ago by taking a pitch that would result in a bruised right triceps. He was back in action just a few days later, so that does not appear that it will become an issue.

With a little over two weeks remaining until the regular season begins, we are getting into crunch time for the two players. Someone is going to have to step up and be ready to take the job come mid-May. It looks like Asche’s in the short-term, and Franco is going to need to produce in order to push him. For now, Franco needs to start banging, not knocking, on the door for the Phillies to let him in when the season gets going.

No matter what happens with this battle, this situation is a good one for the Phillies. Having too many options at third base brings about a competitive aspect that may drive these players to an untapped level. A little competition never hurt anybody. The Phillies and their fans will be sure to watch this situation for the rest of the spring and into the regular season.

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