Franco, Biddle: Hope for the future

Infielder Maikel Franco (left) and outfielder Leandro Castro visit Citizens Bank Park.
Infielder Maikel Franco (left) and outfielder Leandro Castro visit Citizens Bank Park. (   YONG KIM / Staff)
Posted: January 18, 2014

Maikel Franco and Jesse Biddle will report to big-league spring training for the first time next month, and slim and none are their odds of leaving Clearwater, Fla., as part of the 25-man roster.

Slim is Franco's chance as recently stated by general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. None is how the GM categorized Biddle's prospects of making the team.

"This will be just a good experience, an opportunity for these young players to start to understand what it's like to be a major-leaguer," Amaro said last week. "More than anything else, it's a learning experience."

But what if Franco starts launching baseballs over the Tiki Bar at Bright House Field? And what if Biddle shows much better fastball command while still breaking off that nasty curveball he showed last season at double-A Reading?

"Maybe I can't say there's no chance for Franco, but Biddle is not going to make our club," Amaro said. "He's got some things to work on to be a major-league pitcher. It's not his time yet. He's not ready to do it. He could come fast, but he needs to work on command, consistency, and maturity. He needs time on the mound."

Franco and Biddle were two of eight minor-leaguers in the home clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park on Thursday as part of a prospect program the Phillies conduct every year. There's a misconception that little help is on the way for an aging roster that has had major issues staying together on the field in recent years.

By no means were the eight guys in attendance all big-time prospects. In fact, that list stopped at Franco and Biddle. But if those two live up to expectations this year, it's possible they will find their way to Philadelphia before the end of the season and feasible that they could be staples on the big-league roster for years to come.

Franco, who played most of last season at age 20, had the kind of season that makes you take notice, hitting a combined .320 with 31 home runs and 103 RBIs at high-A Clearwater and double-A Reading. He was one of 11 minor-leaguers to drive in at least 100 runs and one of nine to hit 30 home runs.

This isn't a player who just might help the Phillies. He is a player with a chance to be a superstar who is likely to open this season at triple-A Lehigh Valley. Not every organization in baseball will have a player with that kind of potential on their triple-A roster.

"He is so much fun to watch," Biddle said. "Every time he gets in the box, our whole bench just goes quiet. He takes massive swings, and when he connects with the ball, which he does a lot, it's just fun to watch what he can do."

Exactly how Franco fits into the Phillies' plans remains in question. He played a quality third base last season but was introduced to first base late in the season at Reading. Director of player development Joe Jordan said Franco would play both positions this season.

"I think it's important for us that we do that," Jordan said. "We're not looking for him to take over Ryan Howard's position. We're looking for an option if we need it. He's going to be very proficient at first base. It's just a matter of getting more experienced."

After winning the Paul Owens Award as the organization's minor-league player of the year, Franco said during a September visit to Philadelphia that he wanted to win a big-league job in spring training.

"I don't feel like I'm coming in to take the job from another guy," Franco said. "I just want to keep my head up and show everyone what I can do, try my best."

Biddle, a Philadelphia native who spends his offseason here, also has star big-league potential as a No. 1 starter, but he is coming off the most difficult season of his professional career. The 22-year-old lefthander went 5-14 with a 3.64 ERA at double-A Reading last year while battling whooping cough for most of the season and plantar fasciitis in his left foot during the final month.

"I'm 100 percent better," Biddle said. "I did everything I could to get better this offseason. The Phillies put me in a great position to find the right people to work with, I put in the time, and now I'm better and just looking forward to 2014."

This will be Biddle's first spring-training chance to pick the brains of Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, fellow lefthanders with staff ace resum├ęs. Biddle said he will be on the sponge plan.

"I'm just going to take everything in," he said. "I'm going to absorb it and ask questions. Hopefully not too many, but I'm going to ask questions. I'm just going to learn and pay attention. I'm definitely going to have to ask about Cole Hamels' change-up. He has an amazing change-up, one that I've admired for a long time, and I know if mine could be a little more like that, it would definitely help me and make a big difference."

There's no mistaking that the interest level is down as the Phillies get ready for this spring training, but Franco and Biddle are two reasons to believe in the future.


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