Results tagged ‘ Maikel Franco ’

Franco Is Coming

Maikel FrancoThe Phillies’ third baseman of the future is on his way.

The Phillies announced this morning they have recalled Maikel Franco from Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Franco is the No. 54 prospect in baseball, according to MLBPipeline.com. He is expected to be at third base tonight for the Phillies’ series opener against Arizona at Citizens Bank Park.

Franco’s arrival became imminent Monday, when the Phillies optioned third baseman Cody Asche to Triple-A, where is learning to become a left fielder.

Franco, 22, hit .355 (50-for-141) with 12 doubles, one triple, four home runs, 24 RBIs and a .923 OPS in 33 games with the IronPigs.

He has played well, but he also needed to spend 40 days in the Minor Leagues this season to avoid becoming eligible for free agency following the 2020 season. The 40th day was yesterday. By calling up Franco today, he can become a free agent following the 2021 season.

That was an important consideration for a rebuilding team.

“This was a baseball decision based on Maikel’s development and performance,” Ruben Amaro Jr. said in a statement. “We believe he is ready for the next step.”

The Phillies will make a corresponding roster move before tonight’s game. They currently have one extra relief pitcher on the roster.

First of Many Changes: Asche Moves to Left Field

Cody AscheThe Phillies are building for the future and they made their first significant in-season change last night when they optioned Cody Asche to Triple-A.

They want Asche to become a left fielder.

The organization believes Maikel Franco is its third baseman of the future. He is coming as early as Friday. He is hitting well in Triple-A. He plays an impressive third base. If he can play like that in the big leagues then he is the right choice. But the Phillies still like Asche and they see their outfield is lacking. (Phillies outfielders have a .623 OPS this season, which is 29th in baseball.) They think Asche’s offense could improve if he moves to a less stressful spot on the field like left.

“That’s a possibility,” Ryne Sandberg said. “I’ve seen that before and I think he has the ability to play a solid left field with the things he’s already done, with his foot speed and knowledge of the game and what I’ve seen in practice. He also has a good arm.”

Asche took the news hard. I’m sure he did not expect to return to the Minor Leagues to learn a new position. (One hopes they told him this was coming a couple weeks ago, but based on his reaction I think they did not.) But his ego also probably took a hit because the Phillies essentially told him, “We don’t think you’re good enough at third base.” That hurt is understandable. But like I wrote in the story above, there are numerous players that have made the transition from infielder to outfielder.

Craig Biggio, Robin Yount, Albert Pujols, Ryan Braun and Alex Gordon are just a few.

Nobody looks at those players as having failed anything. If Asche takes to left field and his offense improves and he establishes himself as a quality left fielder, nobody will look at him as a failed third baseman. They will look at him as a significant piece of the rebuilding process.

So what’s next for the Phillies? Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon, Aaron Harang, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz remain on the trading block. Aaron Nola? He’ll continue to pitch in Double-A, but he could be in the big leagues before the end of the season. Ben Revere is expected to move to right field, although I don’t think the Phillies look at him as the long-term answer there. Revere could share time in right with Jeff Francoeur and Domonic Brown, once he rejoins the Phillies. Or the Phillies could trade Revere or Brown.

“We’ve been in dialogue about a lot of things,” Ruben Amaro Jr. said. “That really hasn’t stopped since the offseason. We still continue to kind of assess opportunities that we might have. The focus remains the same: we try to put ourselves in a position to improve the club and give young players an opportunity to come up here and see what they can do.”

Preparing for Franco: Asche Works In Left Field

Cody AscheThe Phillies made a small, but significant move yesterday when Cody Asche spent part of batting practice at Busch Stadium catching fly balls in left field.

Asche could be headed there in the future, especially once the Phillies promote Triple-A Lehigh Valley third baseman Maikel Franco, who is hitting .333 (28-for-84) with 10 doubles, one triple, one home run, 11 RBIs and an .883 OPS in 19 games.

Franco’s promotion is not imminent, but it nearly is inevitable. If the Phillies promote Franco before May 15 he could become a free agent in 2020 rather than 2021, so it would be surprising to see him in Phillies pinstripes any earlier. The Phillies also might avoid Franco earning Super 2 salary arbitration status if he is promoted after the first week of July.

But whether it is next month or closer to the All-Star break or some other time, Franco is coming if he keeps hitting.

“At some point we need to make sure that Cody is prepared,” Ruben Amaro Jr. said this afternoon. “It’s no secret that Maikel is doing very well down there. We want to try to create as much versatility with our guys as we possibly can.”

Asche worked a little in left field in Spring Training but the Phillies ultimately pulled the plug because they wanted him to prepare to be the team’s everyday third baseman. But when Franco joins the team Amaro wants him playing nearly every day. Franco can play first base, but he is regarded as a finer defensive third baseman than Asche, which is why they are seeing what else Asche can do.

“He’s primarily a third baseman,” Amaro said about Franco. “That’s his best position. That’s where I think his future lies. But his future could also lie at first. Again, it’s about creating as much versatility as you possibly can, particularly with our young guys and particularly with our younger guys who can swing the bat. We’re looking for people who are going to help us offensively. The whole point is getting as many of those guys as we can on the field.”

Asche has not played in the outfield since he became a professional, so throwing him out there midseason could be a challenge. But it has happened before. The Phillies moved Placido Polanco to the outfield in 2005 after spending his entire career in the infield. They did the same in 2013 with infielder Freddy Galvis.

“He’s a pretty good athlete,” Amaro said about Asche. “If it’s something we choose to do we would have to feel comfortable. Will he be a Gold Glover if he gets a chance to go out there? No. But we’ll have to decide if he’s athletic enough to do that. We think he is.”

Franco’s arrival and Asche’s potential move to left involves other players, too.

For instance, what does this mean for left fielder Ben Revere and first baseman Ryan Howard?

Amaro said Revere can play center field and right field, if needed. Odubel Herrea could be a candidate to move to right, although Amaro said Herrera seems much more comfortable in center. And the Big Piece?

“Howard is our first baseman,” Amaro said.

Amaro said Asche is not a candidate to move to second base, despite playing 64 games there for Class A Williamsport in 2011.

“Playing second base is very difficult for someone who has not played on the right side of the field,” Amaro said. “He did it briefly, but the pivot and the process of learning that is very difficult and a lot more difficult than people think. Middle infielders are more born. They’re not developed, necessarily.”

Asche will start at third base Wednesday night against the Cardinals. That should surprise nobody. It might be some time before Franco is promoted, plus Asche needs more time to learn left field.

The Phillies also need time to figure out how the rest of the dominoes might fall.

Relax: Let Phillies Prospects Move Slowly

Maikel FrancoI wrote Friday that the Phillies are in no rush to promote Maikel Franco to the big leagues, despite a hot start in Triple-A.

I explained the organization’s rationale in the story, but because fans have such little faith in the Phillies’ front office these days I received plenty of negative reaction to it.

Sure, keep playing the same old guys!

Of course they’re not. The Phillies never promote anybody!

I just don’t understand why they don’t bring up every prospect to learn on the job!

Oh, brother. I could not disagree more. Let me be clear: the Phillies’ front office deserves plenty of criticism for the current state of the team. The Phillies have one of the highest payrolls in baseball, but one of the worst teams. There is no excusing that. So criticize their amateur drafts. Question their player development. Criticize their talent evaluation at the amateur and professional levels. Question their unmovable contracts and personnel decisions. Criticize the coaching staff.

Each of those things is fair.

But if the Phillies are going to do something right this season it is going to be remaining patient with their prospects. They should not rush them to the big leagues because fans are frustrated with the product at Citizens Bank Park.

Here is why:

  1. This is a lost season. Do not forget Pat Gillick‘s assessment that the Phillies are not going to compete again until 2017 at the earliest. Despite winning two of three this weekend against the Braves, the Phillies are on pace to lose more than 100 games. 2016 might not be much better. So in what world does it make sense to start rushing prospects through the system so they can join a team headed nowhere? If you’re a Phillies fan you should want the Phillies’ prospects to take their time through the Minor League system and be promoted when they are truly ready. Every week or month they remain in the Minor Leagues is another week, month or year they could be helping the team win when it matters again. Think about it: if the Phillies had rushed Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard or Cole Hamels through the system, maybe they’re not all together during their run from 2007-11.
  2. Service time. In the case of Franco, if he is promoted before May 15 he could become eligible for free agency following the 2020 season. If he is promoted May 15 or later, he does not become eligible until after 2021. Yes, if the Phillies wait just a few weeks they could have Franco for an entire extra season — a season when the results might matter again. Now I am not saying Franco will be promoted later next month or even that he should be promoted later next month. (If the Phillies promote him after the fist week of July they could avoid his Super 2 status in salary arbitration.) I’m only saying I cannot find a single reason to promote Franco right now. To be clear: I’m not advocating the stashing of prospects in the system when they are beyond ready for a big-league promotion. I’m only saying the Phillies must be smart about it. A few extra weeks in Triple-A is not going to kill anybody.
  3. Development. I hear people say the Phillies don’t promote their prospects when they are young. They offer Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Miguel Cabrera and Giancarlo Stanton as examples of young players promoted that enjoyed immediate success in the big leagues. Of course, find me a Phillies prospect since Utley or Howard that could come close to the talent of Trout, Harper, Cabrera or Stanton. That player hasn’t existed. But while I have heard of prospects being hurt by being rushed to the big leagues, I have not heard of prospects being irreparably harmed by not being promoted to the big leagues quickly enough. Utley and Howard were not rushed. They turned out fine. If a player is going be successful at the big-league level, an extra month or two (or more) in the Minor Leagues is not going to stop that. So when I asked Phillies assistant general manager Benny Looper yesterday if the Phillies considered any of the organization’s Double-A pitching prospects to make Tuesday’s start in St. Louis over Severino Gonzalez and he said no, I had no problem with that. That extra time in the Minor Leagues might allow one of those pitchers to learn a new pitch or fine tune the ones they have. It might allow them to learn how to overcome their struggles, so when they experience them in the future they have confidence they can overcome them again. Kyle Kendrick got rushed to the big leagues in 2007. He could only throw a sinker. He had success early, but eventually hitters caught up and he had to return to the Minor Leagues before he could pitch in the big leagues again. Knowing the team is not going anywhere this season, wouldn’t it make sense for those prospects to continue to develop at a steady pace so they’re really ready when the time comes?

So while I understand the desire to watch the future this season rather than the past, think about what that might mean. If you want the Phillies to return to glory sooner rather than later it might mean sucking it up in 2015. Will we see Franco this season? I’m sure we will. Will we see Nola? It’s possible. Should they get called up ASAP? Absolutely not. They should be promoted when they are ready to experience success in the big leagues and no earlier. Because right now does not matter. 2017 and beyond does.

Looking for Good News

Jesse BiddleAre you searching for some good Phillies news?

Well, a few prospects are off to good starts. Here is a look:

Triple-A Lehigh Valley

  • 3B Maikel Franco: He is hitting .323 (10-for-31) with five doubles, one triple, one home run, seven RBIs and a 1.045 OPS in seven games. Remember, he is unlikely to be promoted until mid to late May for the same reason the Cubs just promoted Kris Bryant to the big leagues: team control for an extra season. So, please, hold the, “I CANNOT BELIEVE THEY AREN’T CALLING UP FRANCO RIGHT THIS SECOND!” fits.

Double-A Reading

  • CF Roman Quinn: He is hitting .478 (11-for-23) with two doubles, two triples, one home run, three RBIs, four stolen bases and a 1.408 OPS through six games.
  • P Zach Eflin, Tom Windle and Jesse Biddle: Each pitched well in their first start of the season.

Class A Clearwater

  • C Andrew Knapp: He is hitting .343 (12-for-35) with two doubles, one triple, four RBIs and an .808 OPS.
  • P Matt Imhoff: is 1-1 with a 1.80 ERA after two starts.

Class A Lakewood

  • CF Carlos Tocci: He is hitting .387 (12-for-31) with two doubles, one home run, eight RBIs and a 1.021 OPS.

Lee’s Prognosis Is Not Good

Cliff LeeThe prognosis is not good for Cliff Lee.

Multiple doctors, including orthopedist James Andrews, still see the same tear in the common flexor tendon in Lee’s left elbow, which continues to cause him problems. They agree Lee should resume his throwing program to see if he can minimize the discomfort, even though it appears to be a long shot.

If he cannot pitch without pain, surgery is the next option and that could mean the end of his career.

“We’re not terribly optimistic, but there is still the possibility he can come back and throw, and throw with a minimal amount of discomfort,” Ruben Amaro Jr. said today at Bright House Field. “It got worse the last time [he tried to pitch through it], so the probability of that happening again is probably pretty high, but we don’t know that, and we probably won’t know it until he starts to throw and goes through his progressions.”

Lee, 36, has attempted to rehab twice from the injury. He tried unsuccessfully last summer and again in the winter.

“It’s not a good sign, obviously,” Lee said. “It’s not good.”

Lee pitched two innings Thursday against the Astros in Kissimmee, Fla., and said afterward he felt normal. But the following day, he felt a return of the discomfort he initially experienced last season.

Simply put, the discomfort has not gone away with rehab.

Recovery from surgery would take six to eight months, which Lee acknowledged could end his career. Lee is in the final year of his five-year, $120 million contract. He has a $12.5 million buyout on a $27.5 million club option for 2016, but Lee has hinted in the past that he might not pitch beyond this deal.

“I’ve got a family at home and I’ve been away from them for a long time, so that is part of the equation,” Lee said. “If I were to have the surgery am I going to go through all that to try to pitch again, or am I going to shut it down? That’s a decision that I’ll have to make once that time comes, if that times comes.”

It might not take long to see if Lee can minimize the pain.

“It may take a couple of days,” Amaro said. “If he feels discomfort, then he might have to shut it down. He threw today and felt OK. Really didn’t feel anything different. It’s a very, very mild sensation he’s got in there.”

“There’s no timeline,” Lee said. “I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing and do it as long as I can. I’m not going to go out there in pain to where something bad can potentially happen. That doesn’t make sense to me. So I’m going to play as long as I comfortably can. When it’s uncomfortable to play and it hurts to play, then it’s not worth it.”

Lee said he is comfortable with his baseball career, if he cannot pitch again.

“It’s not just results,” he said. “I feel like I’ve done everything I could in my career to give myself the best chance. If it happens to be nearing the end, it is what it is. I don’t have any regrets. So that’s the main thing. Just as long as I can look back and comfortably say, `I didn’t cheat this or cheat that. I wish I would have done this or would have done that.’ As long as I don’t do that, I can live with anything.”

The Phillies also announced catcher John Hester, who is a non-roster invitee, had surgery to repair a complex tear of the medial meniscus in his left knee. He will take at least six weeks to recover from the surgery.

Third baseman Maikel Franco also was not at Tuesday’s game because of a root canal.

Ryno Talks Lee, Utley, Franco, Billingsley, Brown …

Cliff LeePhillies pitchers and catchers hold their first workout Thursday at Carpenter Complex, so on the eve of camp opening Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg touched on numerous topics.

Here are a few highlights from Wednesday’s nearly 30-minute press conference:

Cliff Lee. Lee finished last season on the disabled list with an injured left elbow, but his elbow is reportedly healthy. The Phillies and Lee hope so. The Phillies would like to trade him as they build for the future. “I know that he started his (throwing) program right around Dec. 1 like normal,” Sandberg said. “He had a little bit of a setback with I think a cold or upper respiratory (issue), but other than that everything’s been on schedule with Cliff. … He’s got no complaints and he’s pretty much where he usually is. So far, so good. We’ll keep an eye on him with his sides and his outings.”

Chase Utley. Utley had a solid first half in 2014 (.806 OPS through July 11), but slumped terribly in the second half (.661 OPS after July 11). Sandberg said he could give Utley more time off this season. “It’s important to have bench players that’ll be able to step in and give those guys possibly more of a rest than normal,” Sandberg said. “But that’s really up to the player and how he’s going. He had an All-Star first half of the season. Still a quality at-bat even if he made outs, still a quality at-bat. But, yeah, I see Chase getting some more days off this year.”

Maikel Franco. Franco is likely to open the season in Triple-A, but he will get a look at both third base and first base this spring. “He had an outstanding Winter Ball, so I’m anxious to see him,” Sandberg said.

Odubel Herrera.</> The Phillies selected the outfielder in the Rule 5 Draft. So far they like what they see. “He’s been impressive,” Sandberg said. “He’s a young guy that’s already opened up some eyes.”

Chad Billingsley. The Phillies hope Billingsley, who missed most of the past two seasons because of injuries, can be ready to join the rotation by late April. “I’ve seen him throw about three or four days ago,” Sandberg said. “He looked very good. He can give us a big boost in the starting pitching.”

Domonic Brown. Brown’s .634 OPS in 144 games last season ranked 139th out of 147 qualified hitters in baseball. His .640 OPS as an outfielder ranked 60th out of 64 outfielders, and his .641 OPS as a left fielder was the lowest of any left fielder since Chuck Knoblauch’s .582 OPS for Kansas City in ’02. “It’s a big year for Domonic Brown, to see if he’s one of the pieces of the puzzle going forward,” Sandberg said.

Ryno Looking For Others at First Base

Phillies Sign Howard to Five-Year, $125 Million ExtensionThe Phillies signed Ryan Howard to a five-year, $125 million contract extension in April 2010 partly because they believed making a deal more than a year before he hit free agency would become a bargain with fellow first basemen Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Adrian Gonzalez scheduled to hit free agency at the same time.

It hasn’t worked as planned.

Howard is struggling through arguably the worst season of his career, following two injury-riddled seasons, and Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg is ready to look at other options at first base, something unimaginable just a few years ago.

“I know what Ryan Howard can do,” Sandberg said this afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. “I think it’s also important to see what other guys can do.”

Darin Ruf started at first base against Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner, and he could be there more often going forward, although Sandberg said that decision will be made daily. Triple-A infielder Maikel Franco could see playing time at first, if he gets healthy and gets called up in September. Asked if this means he is looking for Howard’s replacement at first base, Sandberg said, “No, but I think it’s also important to see and gauge other players to see where they’re at.”

Howard is making $25 million this season, which makes him the highest-paid position player in baseball. He has $60 million remaining on his contract over the next two seasons, which includes a $10 million buyout on a club option worth $23 million in 2017.

Sandberg said the massive contract isn’t a factor in filling out his lineup card.

“It’s also about wins and losses out here,” Sandberg said. “When the game starts it’s about winning the game and being productive and chipping in and doing the part and doing something to help win a game. If that means playing somebody else there and there’s production right away that’s trying to win a baseball game.”

(more…)

Amaro: Changes Are Coming

Ruben Amaro, Jr.Ruben Amaro Jr. said today that changes are coming for the Phillies’ offense.

It could come in the form of trades before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, injured players finally getting healthy or Minor Leaguers finally getting a shot.

“It’s disappointing, particularly the offense,” Amaro said about the Phillies’ performance. “What more can you say other than we’re not swinging the bats very well? I didn’t anticipate our guys being this poor. Because they are. They are this poor. We think that they’re better. But they haven’t shown it. So at some point we’re going to have to make some changes. Some guys, once they are ready to play, may be factors for us.”

The Phillies hit just .206 and averaged just 2.56 runs a game over their recent 3-13 slide. They hit .148 with runners in scoring position in that stretch. For the season, the Phillies are 26th in baseball in runs per game (3.75) and 29th in OPS (.661), despite having a franchise-record $180 million payroll and nearly every high-paid hitter healthy.

Possible changes include Triple-A outfielders Darin Ruf and Grady Sizemore and infielders Maikel Franco and Freddy Galvis.

“Whoever else in the organization may be factors for us,” Amaro said. “We have to get them healthy and see if it behooves us to make any of those changes.”

Ruf is recovering from a knee and wrist injury, Sizemore can opt out of his contract over the All-Star break if he is not in the Phillies’ plans, Galvis is recovering from a broken collarbone and Franco is trying to get on track after struggling most of the season.

Franco, who was the organization’s top hitting prospect entering the season, is hitting .342 (13-for-38) with two doubles, one triple, one home run and eight RBIs in the past nine games.

“He’s swinging the bat well,” Amaro said. “Hey, listen, I’m looking for people who can swing the bat. Because we’re not doing it here. If he gets to the point where he starts swinging the bat consistently, he’s a guy who could be in play too.”

But Franco plays third base and Phillies third baseman Cody Asche warrants a longer look. Could both be on the field at the same time?

“Yeah, because he could play first base, too,” Amaro said about Franco.

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard is hitting .230 with 14 home runs, 51 RBIs and a .701 OPS, which ranks 114th out of 165 qualifying hitters in baseball.

Amaro said there is still interest in his players, despite their poor play recently. He also said the front office has been active in pursuing improvements.

“Whether we’ll actually get it done or if there is something that can improve us, it depends on how our club is being evaluated,” Amaro said. “If we’re going to make changes, we make changes to get better. Everything we think about is thinking about how we can improve our club. Will we be better? That’s what you have to analyze.”

Don’t Expect Franco Soon, Utley Trade Rumors

Chase UtleyIt sure doesn’t sound like Maikel Franco is an option to play third base while Cody Asche is on the disabled list.

“He’s just not playing good enough baseball yet,” Ruben Amaro Jr. said today at Citizens Bank Park. “He’s not really ready to be a big-leaguer yet.”

Franco returned to the IronPigs lineup yesterday after missing a couple days with an upper respiratory issue. He is hitting .231 with four home runs, 19 RBIs and a .669 OPS this season after a poor start, but he has hit .292 with an .851 OPS in 27 games since April 22.

But in those last 27 games, he is hitting just .125 (3 for 24) in his last seven.

Asche is on the DL with a strained left hamstring. The Phillies said they hope Asche can return June 7, when he is eligible to be activated. If that happens, it means there are just 10 more days for Franco to get a call up.

That isn’t much of a window to suddenly become a big leaguer in the eyes and minds of the Phillies front office. Meanwhile, Cesar Hernandez continues to play third base in Asche’s absence. He entered Tuesday hitting .129 (4-for-31).

“There’s no reason to bring Franco unless he’s ready to be a big leaguer as far as I’m concerned,” Amaro said. “If he puts together a few days. Offensively, he’s made some adjustments, he’s made some improvements better than in the earlier part of the season, but he’s not really going on all cylinders now. We’re still contemplating it. We’ll see how it goes.”

*

Are there Chase Utley trade rumors? If not, there will be soon, unless the team begins to play well.

“They surface because he’s a good player and we’re not in first place, that’s why they surface,” Amaro said.

But Amaro downplayed the suggestion the Phillies would trade one of their more iconic players.

“First off, no one wants to trade Chase Utley and No.2 I don’t think Chase Utley wants to go anywhere and he has the power to decide what he wants to do,” Amaro said. “The point is kind of moot. The same with Jimmy (Rollins). The same story.”

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