ALLENTOWN -- The knock on the door, the one every minor-league player waits for, came for Maikel Franco in an upstate New York hotel room in May 2015. He was headed to the majors, his triple-A manager told the prospect that Friday morning.
That night, he would join the Phillies to begin what Franco and the team hoped would be a fruitful major-league career. But four years later, Franco returned to the minor leagues on Wednesday as a former major-leaguer with an uncertain future.
The Phillies no longer see him as their everyday third baseman. Instead, that’s former second baseman Scott Kingery. And they do not see him as a reserve. Instead, they turned to 34-year-old Sean Rodriguez to be their right-handed hitter off the bench. So Franco is a Lehigh Valley IronPig.
“I’m not going to say that I’m going to feel happy, but at the end of the day, I understand the situation, I understand what happened,” said Franco, who turns 27 this month. “I’m just trying to forget all that stuff, get in here, work hard here, and try to get better every single day and try to do everything I can to be the best.”
The Phillies coaching staff pressed Franco to hit the ball in the air, but his fly-ball rate only slightly improved. He was optioned after batting .244 with a .675 OPS in 91 plate appearances since July 1. Manager Gabe Kapler said Franco did not make “enough adjustments to be an overall powerful offensive contributor.”
The Phillies added outfielder Corey Dickerson at the trade deadline and moved Kingery from center field to third base. Kapler said Franco does not “profile well as a bench player” because he is limited to one position.
Franco’s future is uncertain, but the decision to demote him makes it hard to see him ever assuming a meaningful role with the Phillies. They tried replacing him last season, but J.P. Crawford went out with a broken hand and Franco returned to the lineup. They replaced him this season, said he couldn’t fit on the bench, and dropped him to triple A. Kingery is at third now and top prospect Alec Bohm could be there by next spring. Franco’s demotion seemed to be the end of the line.
“At the end of the day, it’s not my decision. At the end of the day, it’s not something I can control,” said Franco, who has not been told if he will return in September when rosters expand. “So I just try to turn the page. Whatever [Kapler] feels comfortable with, is good for him.”
Franco was called Sunday morning, shortly before the season’s 110th game, into Kapler’s office at Citizens Bank Park. General manager Matt Klentak was there waiting. This surprise meeting with the team’s two decision makers was the opposite of a knock on the door.
They told Franco he was being sent to triple A. For the first time in more than four years, he was no longer a major-leaguer.
“I just listened,” Franco said. “Those moments, I can’t just be happy about it, but it is what it is.”
When Franco left triple A in 2015, he was a premier prospect headed to the major leagues. Franco was envisioned as a valuable piece of the future, a player the Phillies thought would emerge from their rebuilding years. He was the team’s opening-day third baseman for four straight years and showed promise.
But there he was Wednesday, returning to the clubhouse he left behind on his road to the majors. He greeted his new teammates and began to prepare for life in the minor leagues. He wore a T-shirt that said, “It’s All Part of It." It’s a slogan created by former Phillies minor-leaguer Cord Sandberg. For Franco, it was a shirt -- and a message -- that fit.
“It happens,” Franco said. “At the end of the day, I never felt like I was going to be here. But now I’m here. So I have to go out there every single day, play, and do my job for my team.”