Yep, believe it or not, two of the Phillies’ most valuable players in 2015 have been these two “super utility” players; two journeymen veterans who have achieved much more than many thought they could contribute.
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Let’s start with the newer of the two. Francoeur was signed to a minor league deal last November to fight for a spot on the Phillies’ roster when spring training began. He didn’t fair particularly well down in Clearwater, batting just .227 in 44 at-bats, but made the team anyway.
In just the second regular season game of 2015 against the Boston Red Sox, Francoeur hit a three-run home run to give the Phillies a 3-0 lead in the sixth inning, a lead they wouldn’t cough up. Since then, Frenchy has become almost a Tebow-level Philly cult fan favorite and has helped the Phillies win many more ballgames.
His most recent heroics came during last week’s two-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays, as the 31-year-old hit two homers and drove in three, helping the Phillies split the series, 1-1.
In limited time this season, Francoeur has made the most of his playing time, batting .271 with 12 home runs and 38 RBI in only 251 at-bats. In 47 August at-bats, he is batting .277 with three home runs and five RBIs.
He has also had some memorable and colorful moments, saving Jonathan Papelbon’s record-breaking franchise Saves clincher earlier in the year, stumbling through a comical misthrow that was the subject of numerous gaffe highlight reels, and even taking the mound as a pitcher.
Francoeur was the subject of trade talks before July’s trade deadline, but the veteran expressed his desire to remain in Philadelphia despite the team’s decision to rebuild.
“I like it here,” Francoeur told NJ.com last month. “I really do. I’ve enjoyed my time here and I’d love to come back.”
With the way he’s performed this season, the Phillies may elect to bring back Francoeur to provide veteran leadership while younger players continue to flood their 25-man roster.
Another player who earned a spot on the team back in spring training was utility infielder Andres Blanco, who despite hitting just .212 in 52 Florida spring at-bats, made the roster because of his versatility.
In his career, the 31-year-old has played 108 games second base, 104 games at shortstop, and 35 at third base. The Phillies signed Blanco to a minor league deal back in October of 2013. He played just 25 games in the Majors last season for the team, batting .277 in 47 at-bats.
Blanco had been used sparingly through the first four months of the season, recording just 97 at-bats through 63 games (15 starts). Over that stretch, the infielder posted a slash line of .289/.361/.485 with two home runs and 11 RBIs.
Since Maikel Franco went down with a wrist fracture on August 11th, Blanco has seen his playing time increase drastically, starting seven of the Phillies’ last nine games. Over that stretch, Blanco has been one of the Phillies’ best hitters, batting .364 with three home runs and four RBIs while posting a 1.174 OPS.
Interim manager Pete Mackanin has gone on the record saying that he doesn’t want to “overexpose” the utility infielder, but has been forced to in light of the injury to Franco, the normal everyday 3rd baseman.
“I don’t want to overexpose Blanco. He’s been so good—some guys are really good part-time players,” Mackanin said before last weekend’s series in Miami. “Sometimes if you overexpose them, they’re not at their best.”
Before this most recent stretch, Blanco’s season-high in consecutive starts sat at four. With Franco down, he’s now made a season-high six consecutive starts. That streak could continue to grow as the Phillies begin a three-game series against the Mets on Monday night.
For Francoeur, his season-high for consecutive games sits at five, which he has done twice this year. With the Phillies’ crowded outfield, Francoeur will likely platoon with Domonic Brown and Aaron Altherr in right field, with Francoeur making most of the starts against opposition left-handed starting pitchers.
Both Blanco and Francoeur were journeymen veterans who were given a shot to make a major league roster. This is nothing new for either player, as they have played for 11 different teams combined. With their stellar play this season, these super utility players might earn themselves a chance to continue their heroics with the Phillies through their rebuilding process, and maybe start to see the fruits of the labor taking place in Philadelphia.