Phillies prospect Maikel Franco finishing season on a tear

Maikel Franco could be called up to the Phillies for the final month of the season.
Maikel Franco could be called up to the Phillies for the final month of the season. (CHARLES FOX / Staff)
Posted: September 01, 2014

ALLENTOWN - Maikel Franco, whose spring training and start to his minor-league season at Lehigh Valley was a dud, is finishing on a tear. The Inquirer's No. 2-ranked Phillies prospect is creating plenty of buzz: He turned 22 on Tuesday and celebrated by hitting a grand slam.

Franco insists he hasn't dwelled on whether he will be called up after the minor-league season ends Monday, the same day the major-league rosters expand to 40 players.

"No, I haven't thought about Philadelphia," Franco said during a pregame interview Wednesday at Coca-Cola Park. "I want to finish here first, and if they make the decision, I will take it. But I want to finish here first and see what happens."

Franco's current and future position is third base, but since last year he has also played first in order make him more versatile.

An engaging person who knows the expectations the club has for him, Franco broke into a smile when asked whether he would like to make the Phillies' decision to call him up a hard one.

"Right, I want to make it hard for them," he said, barely able to contain his laughter.

Deep down, the 6-foot-1, 180-pound Franco was likely serious.

Franco hit just .184 in spring training and then got off to a slow start to his initial season at triple A. He batted just .172 with a .487 OPS in April, but rebounded to hit .282 with an .803 OPS in May. He slumped again in June, batting .162 with a .435 OPS. Ever since, he has been on fire.

Since June 2, he was hitting .333 with a .954 OPS, 11 home runs, and 47 RBIs in 51 games entering the weekend. Overall, he was hitting .259 with 16 home runs, 78 RBIs, and a .733 OPS in 540 plate appearances.

"It was hard earlier, when good things are not happening, but you just have to stay with it," Franco said.

Franco, who also plans to play winter ball in the Dominican Republic, has a passion for the game that has impressed veteran Tony Gwynn Jr., who joined the IronPigs on Aug. 11.

"When you see how passionate he is about the game, it kind of brings that young kid out in you again," Gwynn said. "I have enjoyed watching him go out there and tear up the league since I've been here, and it has been really impressive."

Franco's early struggles likely came from trying to do too much. He was coming off a season in which he combined for 31 home runs and 103 RBIs at Clearwater and Reading.

IronPigs manager Dave Brundage said that Franco has done a much better job of pitch recognition. He is swinging at better pitches, and that has made him more comfortable at the plate.

"He has confidence and relishes that situation, and that is what good players do, they rise to the occasion, and that is certainly what he has done," Brundage said.

Brundage said the sky is the limit for Franco, but added that he has to work on things beyond hitting or fielding.

"You want to remain humble and go about your business the right way, and those are things that can be applied, and not [ticking] off the other team," Brundage said.

The next evening, Franco was pulled from Lehigh Valley's game in the fifth inning. Brundage told reporters that it was a "coach's decision" and didn't elaborate. He was back in the lineup one night later.

That aside, Franco is ending the year in a much better fashion than he began.

"He is much more aggressive at the plate, a much different player than the beginning of the season," said a scout, who requested anonymity.

Even Franco, who is always striving for more, is happy with the way he has rebounded.

"It's nice to finish off like this," he said. "I am happy about that."


ONE UP

One reason Lakewood's Willians Astudillo entered the weekend leading the South Atlantic League in hitting was that he had 40 hits in his last 85 at-bats (.470). That lifted his average to .340.

ONE DOWN

The Phillies' short-season team in Williamsport has suddenly stopped hitting. From Aug. 22 through Thursday, the Crosscutters were shut out five times in seven games.

UP NEXT

The minor-league season ends Monday for the three franchises located closest to Philadelphia, and all three - Lehigh Valley, Lakewood, and Reading - finish on the road. Reading plays at Trenton, with lefthander Adam Lowen (3-5, 3.20 ERA) looking to cap a strong end to his season.


mnarducci@phillynews.com

@sjnard

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