Phillies Maikel Franco Dominating Grapefruit League

Mar 12, 2016; Clearwater, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco (7) at bat against the Toronto Blue Jays at Bright House Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 12, 2016; Clearwater, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco (7) at bat against the Toronto Blue Jays at Bright House Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Philadelphia Phillies lead piece in their rebuilding plan is having a big spring training here in the early going.

During the off-season back in 2014 and on into the 2015 campaign, the first waves of the Phillies rebuilding tide began to wash upon the Citizens Bank Park shores as trades of key older players combined with the appearance of the first of what is hoped will be a continuous series of younger players making their debut in red pinstripes.

The first position player in that rising tide was 3rd baseman Maikel Franco. Signed by the Phillies as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic back in 2010, Franco rose incrementally through the minor leagues, becoming the #17 prospect in the game according to Baseball America prior to the 2014 season.

In September of that 2014 season, Franco received his first cup of coffee in Major League Baseball. It was an inauspicious beginning, as he managed to put together just a .179/.190/.214 slash line across 58 plate appearances with two doubles and five RBI, striking out 13 times.

He began the 2015 season back at AAA, and was tearing the cover off the ball almost immediately. After hitting for a .355/.384/.539 slash line and drilling a dozen doubles and four homers over his first 151 plate appearances with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Franco was again called up to the big leagues, this time apparently for good.

Franco continued his strong season with the Phillies at the highest level. From the time of his call up in mid-May through August 11th, Franco was hitting a respectable .277/.340/.490 with 13 homers, 48 RBI, 22 doubles, and 43 runs scored in 326 plate appearances over 77 games.

On August 11th in a game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Franco was hit by a pitch on the left wrist delivered by now teammate Jeremy Hellickson. It would turn out that the wrist was fractured, and Franco would spend most of the remainder of the 2015 season on the disabled list. He was able to return for the final series, and he drilled a home run on October 3rd  at Miami, showing that he was indeed healed.

Franco thus entered this spring training as a big leaguer. It was the first time that he would play in Grapefruit League games knowing that the Phillies starting 3rd base job was all his own. The question was, how would he respond? Was his wrist actually fully recovered? Would he coast, knowing that he had reached the pinnacle of the sport?

No worries for the Phillies organization or fan base. Franco has come out this spring on fire, looking like not only the Phillies best player, but one of the best all-around players in baseball. He has a .367/.424/.967 slash line over 30 at-bats in 11 games. A full half-dozen of his 11 hits have been home runs, and he also has a team-high 14 RBI while scoring seven times, tied for the club lead in that category.

Franco was given the day off yesterday against the Rays in Port Charlotte, and with today’s only scheduled spring training off-day, he is receiving a nice little mid-March break. It is a well deserved break for the player who has clearly become the lead face of the rebuilding program.

On Thursday, the Phillies will welcome what is always a big, festive crowd out to Bright House Field for the annual Saint Patrick’s Day game. That green-clad crowd will watch the green-uniformed Phils take on the Rays, and Franco should be back at 3rd base and back in the middle of the batting order, continuing to do damage that everyone hopes is a portent of a big season to come.

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