Franco battling out of hitting slump

Phillies prospect Maikel Franco. (Ed Hille/Staff Photographer)
Phillies prospect Maikel Franco. (Ed Hille/Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 25, 2014

ALLENTOWN - After a breakout season at both Clearwater and Reading in 2013, Lehigh Valley third baseman Maikel Franco had high expectations this year.

So did everybody inside and outside the Phillies organization.

Franco, The Inquirer's No. 1-ranked prospect, who turns 22 this summer, started slowly. In 23 April games he hit .172 with one home run, seven RBIs, and .487 one-base-plus-slugging percentage.

He had a simple explanation for his dismal hitting.

"It was something where I was trying to do too much," Franco said. "Now I am getting used to this and I am more confident and have been more selective."

The numbers back him up. Entering the weekend, he was hitting .304 with three home runs, 11 RBIs, and an .889 OPS this month.

There was conjecture that had Franco enjoyed a strong spring training, he could have earned a spot on the Phillies. While current third baseman Cody Asche hit .170 in the spring, Franco didn't do much better. In his first big-league camp, he batted .184 with no extra-base hits in 38 at-bats.

Still, he thought it was an invaluable experience.

"I really enjoyed it and the older guys showed me a lot," he said. "I wanted to be close to [Jimmy] Rollins and [Chase] Utley, and they were really helpful."

Was the less-than-balmy April weather the cause of Franco's cold start? Last season he never had a sustained slump, but he also didn't have to deal with much bad weather.

Franco began that season at high-A Clearwater, where he hit .299 with 16 home runs and 52 RBIs. Then he advanced to double-A Reading and batted .339 with 15 home runs and 51 RBIs. It was a season that earned him the Paul Owens Award as the best player in the Phillies' minor-league system.

"The weather this year might have affected me a bit, but I have to hit in any weather," Franco said.

Lehigh Valley manager Dave Brundage said that while the weather could have been a factor in the slow start, others also came into play.

"He's 21 years old and he's facing a lot of experienced pitchers in triple A," Brundage said. "Plus he was trying to do too much. But he has settled in and is really gaining confidence."

Franco said he has had to adjust to facing veteran pitchers.

"It has been tough because there have been a lot of pitchers, some who were four or five years in the big leagues," he said.

When Asche was slumping earlier this season, the Phillies resisted the temptation to bring Franco up.

"When he comes up, we want him here to stay," said Joe Jordan, the Phillies' director of player development.

If he continues his improvement, Franco could see big-league time as early as this season. But he won't speculate on his immediate future.

"When they believe I am ready, I will be there," Franco said. "I will continue to play hard and have a lot of focus."


mnarducci@phillynews.com

@sjnard

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