Minor-League Topic: Promotions, demotions coming soon

Maikel Franco , 19, is the top third-base prospect in the Phillies' system. RON CORTES / Staff Photographer
Maikel Franco , 19, is the top third-base prospect in the Phillies' system. RON CORTES / Staff Photographer
Posted: June 17, 2013

This is the time of year when rosters change at the minor-league level, and the number of teams in action expands from four to six. Players excelling are often challenged by being sent to a higher level. Players struggling at a higher level can be demoted in the hope that they'll have success and regain confidence at the lower level.

The Phillies have players in both categories as their two rookie-league clubs - Williamsport of the New York-Penn League and the Gulf Coast League Phillies in Clearwater, Fla. - begin play this week. Williamsport's season begins Monday and the GCL Phils open play Friday.

Perhaps the most intriguing decision will be made on Maikel Franco, the third baseman at high-single-A Clearwater. He is only 20 years old and will not turn 21 until Aug. 26, but his ability may have outgrown the Florida State League, a place that often humbles players his age.

Franco entered the FSL all-star break hitting .296 with 23 doubles, 15 home runs, and 49 RBIs. The doubles total ranked first in the league, the home runs ranked second, and the RBIs ranked third. He has struck out just 39 times in 279 plate appearances and has made only five errors in 144 chances at third base, where he is considered an outstanding defensive player.

"We'll have some things like that going on," director of player development Joe Jordan said when asked about Franco's potential promotion to double-A Reading.

Clearwater outfielder Kelly Dugan, who leads the Florida State League with a .344 batting average after opening the season on the disabled list, is also a potential candidate to be moved to Reading at some point this season. Dugan, 22, has a team-leading .992 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and is in the midst of his second straight strong minor-league season after battling injuries the previous two years.

Hoby Milner, a seventh-round pick out of the University of Texas last season, is also a candidate to move from Clearwater to Reading. He was 0-2 with a 13.50 ERA in his first three starts at Clearwater this season, but in 10 starts since, the 6-foot-2 lefthander is 6-1 with a 1.71 ERA. Opponents are hitting just .212 against him, and he has struck out 60 batters and walked only 11 during that 10-game stretch, covering 631/3 innings.

Outfielder Aaron Altherr, in the midst of his best minor-league season, may end up remaining in Clearwater in the hope that he continues to have sustained success for the first time in his professional career.

At low-single-A Lakewood, the Phillies have three top prospects struggling through their first full professional season. Leftfielder Larry Greene Jr., centerfielder Carlos Tocci, and pitcher Shane Watson have dealt with their share of frustration. Greene, the team's first overall pick in 2011, entered Saturday hitting .180 without a home run. Tocci, a 17-year-old Venezuelan, was hitting .226. Watson, the team's first overall pick last year, was 3-6 with a 6.35 ERA.

Jordan said the plan was to let all three remain at Lakewood for the time being.

"I have spoken with Larry, and he needs to turn things around," Jordan said. "I believe that's about to happen based on what I've seen in recent days. We're going to hang in there with them."

Both Jordan and Lakewood manager Mickey Morandini agree that Tocci and Watson are capable of dealing with the frustration of failure at Lakewood and will benefit from it in the long run.

Several top Phillies draft picks from last season will be freed from extended spring training and begin play at Williamsport. That list includes righthander Mitch Gueller, a supplemental first-rounder; outfielder Dylan Cozens, a second-rounder; infielder Zach Green, a third-round pick; and outfielder Andrew Pullin, a fifth-rounder. Catcher Andrew Knapp, a second-round pick from the University of California earlier this month, will also start his career at Williamsport.

First-round pick J.P. Crawford, the high school shortstop from California, and third-round selection Cord Sandberg, a centerfielder from Florida, will begin their careers in the Gulf Coast League.

Contact Bob Brookover at bbrookover@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @brookob.

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