Phillies Notebook: Phils' Franco making an impression

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Phillies coach Larry Bowa chats with infield prospect Maikel Franco.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Phillies coach Larry Bowa chats with infield prospect Maikel Franco.
Posted: February 21, 2014

CLEARWATER, Fla. - A sweat-soaked Maikel Franco walked back into the Phillies' clubhouse yesterday afternoon after a long day's work.

He smiled. It's good to be in big-league camp.

The likely reality is that Franco - a third baseman who turned 21 in August near the end of his breakout minor league season - will be moving across the Carpenter Complex to minor league camp in a few weeks.

Franco is young and probably still has some more developing to do as a professional. He began last season at Class A and played a little more than 2 months at Double A.

Cody Asche, meanwhile, gained valuable big-league experience in the final 2 months of the Phillies' 2013 season. He is a heavy favorite to be at third when the season starts March 31.

The battle between the lefthanded-hitting Asche and righthanded-hitting Franco should continue to be interesting throughout 2014, as Franco will only get closer to the big leagues with each passing day. But Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg wouldn't go as far as to name his Opening Day third baseman yesterday, the second day of full-squad workouts in Clearwater.

"We have competition," Sandberg said.

He went on to say that such decisions are usually made from an organization standpoint, so that the player will be in the best position to succeed when he does arrive in the big leagues. Again, it's almost a given that Franco starts the season in the minor leagues and doesn't arrive in the majors until later in the summer.

But Sandberg has liked what he's seen.

"Really good moves at third base, real good glove," said Sandberg, who won nine Gold Glove awards in his Hall of Fame career. "He has a knack where the harder play it is, the softer [his hands get] - that's instincts. I've seen him in live [batting practice], having good, quality swings already. He's showing a lot of good stuff. And he's working real hard at the game, and he's around a lot of good guys, whether he's following them or not, he's really going after it on the field. It's impressive."

Franco hit .320 with a .926 OPS and 31 home runs in 134 games between Class A Clearwater and Double A Reading last season en route to winning the Paul Owens Award for the best position player in the Phillies' minor league system. Asche, 23, hit .295 with an .837 OPS and 15 home runs in 104 games at Triple A Lehigh Valley before joining the Phillies in late July. Asche hit .235 with 14 extra-base hits in 50 games after joining the Phillies.

"With those two guys," Sandberg said, "it's possibly a good problem to have."

Franco is expected to get some work this spring at first base, too, where he began playing some at the end of 2013. Asche is not in line yet for any work outside of third base.

Major league baseball will take two spring exhibition games to Panama next month to honor the career of former Yankees closer and Panama native Mariano Rivera. The Yankees and Marlins will play March 15 and 16 in the "Legend Series" in Panama City.

Fellow Panamanian Carlos Ruiz is happy his home country gets to host the event.

"It's going to be fun for everyone there," Ruiz said. "There are a lot of Yankees fans over there because of Mariano. I can tell you people are excited - it's big."

Ruiz, who spends the offseason in Panama, said he sees a lot of Yankees hats in Panama. "But in the last couple of years, I saw a lot of Phillies [hats], too," he said.

The Phillies' coaching staff spray-painted blue paint on the corners of the bags before baserunning practice to stress the importance of where players should be hitting as they round each base . . . Bobby Abreu hadn't been to a Phillies camp in Clearwater since 2006, but he hasn't been forgotten. He has received several "Welcome back, Bobby" cheers from fans as he has taken batting practice this week . . . A rabid possum found its way atop the outfield fence of Ashburn Field, which borders Bright House Field at the Carpenter Complex. Since it's a heavy traffic area, the animal had to be removed from the compound. "They're nasty, man," pitching coach Bob McClure said of possums.

On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21


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