As the Phillies continue their preparation for Grapefruit League action next week, players recently have taken part in various fielding and hitting drills. Signs are pointing in the positive direction for players such as Ryan Howard, who is running without a limp in years, whereas in the negative light, right-hander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez has struggled thus far in his velocity and command, two essential aspects for any pitcher to succeed in baseball.
One Phillies player in particular who is impressing the Phillies coaching staff is infielder prospect Maikel Franco. Franco had been a third baseman for the majority of his career in the Phillies' minor league system starting in 2010 at age 17, but just this offseason did the Phillies transition him across the diamond to gain quality experience fielding at first base.
Among the staff impressed by Franco is Phillies' manager Ryne Sandberg, who shared some comments of his progression as a fielder in his new position, and as a right-handed hitter:
“His actions are good at first base. He’s one of the better guys. He’s getting some good rips at live pitching. I just like the way he uses the whole field. He’s not a one-way type of a hitter. He does the situational things very well. He has good basic mechanics and fundamentals that allow him to cover the whole plate and use the whole field.”
While the Phillies having been giving reps for Franco at first base, he could still make the club and play in his former position at the hot corner, despite Cody Asche being the early favorite to land the starting role as the everyday third baseman.
In 50 games and 179 plate appearances for the Phillies in 2013, Asche batted .235 with five home runs and 22 runs batted in. He also walked 15 times, and hit eight doubles and one triple.
Likewise, Maikel Franco in 2013 played for the Single-A Clearwater Threshers for 65 games, and a near even 69 games for the Reading Fightins. In 134 combined games, he hit a staggering 31 home runs and brought home 103 runs batted in.
Once the Grapefruit League games get underway, Ryne Sandberg wants to see more out of Franco, of course, before making final assumptions of what his role could be if he indeed makes the major league roster at the age of 21:
“It seems the harder the ball is hit at him the softer he gets. I’m looking forward to seeing him in game action. I want to get a good look at him.”
While there may be some competition brewing between Asche and Franco for the starting role at third base, Asche is maintaining a positive mentality:
“I don’t look at it as it’s my job to lose. I look at it as it’s a spot I need to get.”
With the Phillies lacking power offensively, it will be really hard not to consider bringing Franco west to Texas on March 31st for Opening Day against the Rangers. He could still make the club, of course, with Asche named the starting third baseman, however the Phillies may want Franco to receive regular at-bats. Thus, he could very well start the season in Triple-A even though they really would need his bat in the bigs.
We'll see how Asche and Franco play in the upcoming weeks, as all eyes will be on the two in search for answering the final true question mark on the fielding depth chart.
Matt Rappa is a contributor to Philliedelphia. Follow him on Twitter @mattrappa