ALLENTOWN, PA.—Yes, Maikel Franco saw time at first base last season, but that doesn't necessarily mean the Phillies have lost faith in him as their third baseman of the future.
Just ask manager Ryne Sandberg how he feels about Franco, who is playing third every day with Triple-A Lehigh Valley, especially when compared to what he currently has in Philadelphia.
“I give Franco the edge (over Cody Asche),” Sandberg said. “He just has a knack for reading balls and drop-stepping and real quick with his feet, even for a guy with his size. I saw that in spring training.”
High praise aside, there is something to be said for versatility.
Ryan Howard's mega-contract is up after 2016, and if Asche has blossomed in to a productive player, then it makes sense to push Franco to first. That rings especially true if Franco's bat continues to flourish, as projected, into a weapon capable of handling the offense-heavy profile of a first baseman.
"He's our third baseman," Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan said, "but we've made it clear to him we also want him to feel comfortable at first. We're going to put him there to some degree. …"
"The fact that he (Franco) can play both corners makes sense. It gives you more options of getting a quality bat in the lineup every day for the next five to 10 years."
The power and run production Franco showed at Clearwater and Reading in 2013, where he smacked a combined 31 homers and drove in 103 runs, hasn't manifested at Lehigh Valley. He's hitting just .216 with five home runs and 26 RBIs in 66 games.
But neither Franco nor the organization is concerned about those numbers. Lehigh Valley manager Dave Brundage has kept Franco in the No. 3 spot despite the low production.
"It's still a learning curve for him," Brundage said. "Not everyone is going to just breeze right through the minor leagues without a little bit of failure. You hate to say it’s a good thing, but it’s part of the process and part of the learning curve.”
"We think very highly of him and that's where he's going to learn (hitting third) unless he shows us differently. He's not the first young guy to struggle at Triple-A."
Franco's hitting coach at Lehigh Valley also has faith that his bat will come around.
"He hasn't lost his confidence,'' the IronPigs' Sal Rende said. "He's a young Latin guy who hasn't played too much in the cold. That's not an excuse; it's just the way it is.
"He has a good eye. It's just a matter of time. He's been solid at first base. Any time a guy sees a way to get to the big leagues, he's going to take it."
Franco's work ethic, along with his bat speed, is what impresses Jordan.
"The worst thing we could do as an organization is overreact," Jordan said of Franco's early season slump, which saw him bat .172/.234/.253 in April. "We're pretty convinced of his confidence and ability.
"The Triple-A level is very important in the development of a hitter. There are a lot of veteran arms there that have been in the big leagues and know how to exploit a guy's weaknesses.
"It's a challenge he needs to experience. He's an intelligent young man. He's not just a hitter. He's a lot more rounded person than what most people think."