Phillies Featured Player: Third Baseman Maikel Franco

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Mar 12, 2017; Clearwater, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies infielder Maikel Franco (7) warms up before the start of the spring training game against the Boston Red Sox at Spectrum Field. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 12, 2017; Clearwater, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies infielder Maikel Franco (7) warms up before the start of the spring training game against the Boston Red Sox at Spectrum Field. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports /
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Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco will look to get off to a hot start as the Phillies are set to open up their season Monday in Cincinnati.

I got my start at That Ball’s Outta Here featuring a new player every series, so I’m going back to my roots as the 2017 Phillies season gets underway. As Philadelphia gears up for a new team every few days, I will look at one player on the roster who could be a key part of the series. For the first edition of this season, I will take a look at third baseman Maikel Franco.

Franco is coming off a 2016 season where he hit 25 home runs and drove in 88 runs. He posted a .255/.306/.427 line on the year, but he fell off in the second half. His walk rate dropped from 7.2% to 5.3% and his line in the second half was .238/.286/.351. Franco finished the season with just 1.4 fWAR in 152 games, lower than his 2015 mark despite player in just 80 games that year.

It was clear that Franco needed to improve this season if he wanted to be a part of the team’s future. Franco stepped up his work ethic during the offseason, waking up earlier to work on his game and overall conditioning.

During spring training, Franco worked intensely with new hitting coach Matt Stairs to improve his swing and approach at the plate. Last year, Franco wound up trying to pull the ball to get more power, coming at the cost of his ability to make contact. Stairs’ goal with Franco was to get him to stay calm at the plate use all areas of the field when he hits.

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Stairs told Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

"“We’ve seen it. We’ve seen him hit balls to right field for base hits. We’ve seen him hit balls to right-center field for home runs. It’s just that he can’t get so anxious and try to do a tape-measure shot every time. Be happy with a 374-foot homer to right-center. That’s the point we need to get him to.”"

General manager Matt Klentak told Marcus Hayes of the Daily News that the team is telling each player to “control the strike zone” when hitting.

Manager Pete Mackanin echoed that phrase when talking with David Laurila of Fangraphs, telling him, “Once he [Franco] learns to control the strike zone a little better, there’s no telling how good he can be.”

Mackanin also recounted a story shared to him by Phillies great Mike Schmidt to Laurila about adjustments he made after his first season:

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"“I remember Mike Schmidt telling me that his first year, he struck out a lot and hit 190-something. He played [winter ball] and decided he wasn’t going to swing as hard. The first time he did that, he hit a double off the center-field wall. Immediately he said to himself, ‘You know what? I don’t have to swing as hard.’ The less your head moves, and the more still you can stay, the easier it is for you hit. Young guys, like Franco, need to understand that.”"

This season, Franco will look to return to his 2015 form where he carried a .840 OPS and hit 14 home runs in 335 plate appearances.

If Franco can return to that kind of production and carry it through a full season, this season would certainly be considered a bona fide success.

Franco’s production could be aided by a better lineup around him. Tommy Joseph emerged as viable offensive piece last season and will be in the lineup every day. Veteran Michael Saunders batting behind Franco will keep pitchers from pitching around Franco and force them to put something in the strike zone. Even Freddy Galvis and Cameron Rupp showed enough last season to keep pitchers on their toes. Overall, there is much more offense around Franco compared to this time last season.

Next: Opening Day Preview: Phillies at Reds

Franco’s performance is one of the biggest storylines of the 2017 season, and with it finally starting Monday, we can see if Franco’s adjustments will push him to the next level this year.

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