Maikel Franco will get his opportunities in spring training, but the third base/first base prospect is far from a certainty to open the season on the Phillies' major league roster.
Franco, 22, is in the midst of a great offseason in the Dominican Winter League. But with Cody Asche penciled in as the Phillies' third baseman and no takers for embattled first baseman Ryan Howard and the $60 million left on his contract, the Phillies seem content to give Franco more time in the minors.
A natural third baseman, Franco will see time at both corner infield spots during spring training. The Phillies have internally discussed exposing Asche to the outfield in the spring, but that decision hasn't been finalized, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said.
Franco will "be bounced around a little bit, and we'll see if he's ready to help us at the big-league level," Amaro said Friday before the annual Philadelphia Sports Writers Association banquet in Cherry Hill, N.J. "He may not be. I think in a perfect world he starts in triple A and continues to progress there and then we bring him when he's ready. But we'll see. Hopefully he creates some competition for Asche and pushes him a little bit."
The Phillies, looking to get younger with an eye toward the future, because of major-league service time would have one more year before Franco eventually hits free agency if he spends the first month and a half of the season in the minors. His first major-league stint in September yielded a .179 average, two extra-base hits (both doubles) and 13 strikeouts to one walk in 56 at-bats.
This time last year Franco was coming off a season in which he hit a combined .320 with a .926 OPS, 31 homers and 103 RBIs in 134 games between high A Clearwater and double A Reading.
But he struggled last spring in his first big-league camp, mustering just seven singles in 38 at-bats. In 133 games at Lehigh Valley last season, he hit .257 with 16 homers and 78 RBIs, coming on strong in the latter stages of the season.
This winter, in 52 total games of regular-season and postseason play, Franco is hitting .290 with nine home runs and 38 RBIs. His .911 OPS and seven extra-base hits (four doubles, one triple and two home runs) in 14 playoff games are most among those in the Dominican Winter League's postseason.
"This will be an interesting spring training for him," Amaro said. "He had a great year coming into last year's spring training, and I think he pressed a little bit. I think it was a new experience for him, to be in big-league camp, trying to hit a lot of home runs and trying to do a lot of things. But it will be interesting to see how he handles this experience. He's not a lock for our team, but he'll be competing."