The Philadelphia Phillies all-time greatest player believes that an up-and-coming youngster is a future NL MVP.
At just 23 years old, Maikel Franco is perhaps already the Phillies’ best player, and will undoubtedly be a major cog on their next contending squad.
The greatest third baseman in Phillies franchise history, in fact it’s all-time greatest player, has even higher expectations for the young slugger.
In an interview with CSNPhilly.com’s Jim Salisbury, a ringing endorsement of Franco’s talents came from none other than Mike Schmidt himself.
“I’m a big fan, a very big fan,” Schmidt said, via CSNPhilly.com. “I think he’s got everything that a young man like that needs to become a great player. He’ll be a league MVP at some point. Hopefully, it’s sooner rather than later. But he has that kind of talent.”
That’s quite the praise from Schmidt, who earned three National League MVPs during his playing days with the Phillies. “I think he’s a 30-100 (homer-RBI) guy,” Schmidt said. “If you multiply out his numbers he was that last year.”
Over 80 games last season, Franco hit 14 home runs and drove in 50. Double those numbers over a full 162-game season, and Franco would have had 28 home runs and exactly 100 RBI.
Franco was making a late case for National League Rookie of the Year honors, but his season was cut short after he suffered a broken wrist due to a Jeremy Hellickson fastball last August.
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This season, Franco is expected to be the opening day third baseman and, barring further injury, 2016 will be his first full season in the big leagues.
Franco’s offensive prowess was clear in his limited time last season. However, his defense was shaky at times.
Despite his struggles at the hot corner, Schmidt thinks Franco has natural defensive talents. “He has some things I never had,” Schmidt said. “He’s probably a better defensive player than I was. He does make some flamboyant plays. He’s very good charging the ball and bare-handing it. He has an unusual arm. He throws three-quarters to side-arm, but his ball carries and it’s strong.”
That’s either Schmidt being too humble regarding his own talents, or over-estimating Franco’s, or perhaps the youngster is better than most other evaluators believe. After all, Schmidt won 10 Gold Gloves over the course of his career. He is generally considered, along with Brooks Robinson, as one of the greatest 3rd basemen in baseball history.
If there’s one thing Franco has a knack for in the field, it’s plays like this.
While he could use some polish, the youngster definitely has the raw tools—soft hand and a strong arm– to transform himself into a Gold Glove-caliber defender.
Of course, health is the most important thing, as well as the most unpredictable facet of being a professional athlete. For Franco to sustain success and grow as a player, he’ll need to keep his body in good condition, and of course, some luck.
“Time remains the big test in baseball,” Schmidt said. “You need a little luck. I think I was only on the disabled list twice in 17 years, so that’s going to be a big key for him and it starts with attention to his physical conditioning, things like stretching and strength. To stay injury-free, you have to stretch every day. You can’t take that part of the day lightly. You have to be mindful of your physical condition on a daily basis so you can get those 150 games. If you go on the DL, the season shortens up on you.”
A prime example is Chase Utley in the 2007 season. Before being forced to miss a month due to a broken hand, Utley was having an MVP-caliber season. Through 100 games, Utley had posted a .336/.414/.581 slash line with 17 home runs and 82 RBI. It looked as though he was destined to earn those NL MVP honors, but the injury resulted in an eighth place finish in the voting that was instead rightfully won by his teammate, Jimmy Rollins.
For Franco, staying healthy will be the biggest key. But like Utley back in ’07, sometimes your health is out of your control. When all is said and done, Schmidt sees Franco as a future MVP. Of course, the 23-year-old will need a little more fine-tuning and polish.
“With time and maturity, that polish will come to Franco’s game,” Schmidt said. “He’s just got a whole lot going for him, all the qualities of a future MVP.” Who knows, maybe one day there will be an actual debate as to who was the better defender at 3rd base: Schmidt, or Franco? If Franco is even close to Schmidt, the Phillies and their fans will be very happy.