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Phillies send Maikel Franco to minor-league camp

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Maikel Franco's belongings were packed in a red duffel bag. His locker was nearly empty. The Phillies prospect clutched three bats in each hand and walked out of the clubhouse on Friday morning. His time in major-league camp was up.

The Phillies optioned the 22-year-old to minor-league camp after a slow start this spring. Franco hit .200 in 30 at-bats. All six of his hits were singles. He was projected to compete with Cody Asche for the starting job at third base. Franco failed to be much of a threat.

"His time will come when it's time for him to come," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr said. "I think there was some element of him trying to do too much like he did a little bit last spring. But he doesn't need to impress us. He just needs to go play."

Manager Ryne Sandberg said he thought Franco was overswinging. Franco has struggled producing consistent at-bats, Sandberg said. He wondered if Franco was looking to hit for power instead of tuning his swing with a good approach.

Asche, 24, is hitting .247 this spring and has homered in his last two starts. He hit .252 with 10 homers last season.

"I think he's having a real good spring just from making adjustments on what he needed to work on from last year," Sandberg said. "He has a real good two-strike approach. He's putting some balls in play and has a short, nice, sweet stroke."

Amaro said Franco will play mostly third base in the minors, while also getting some work at first base. Baseball America ranked him in January as the third-best Phillies prospect, two spots lower than last year's ranking. Moving Franco to the minors likely means that he will not become arbitration eligible until 2019 or a free agent until 2022.

Franco hit .184 last spring in his first major-league camp. He spent the minor-league season at triple-A Lehigh Valley and hit .257 with 16 home runs and 78 RBIs in 521 at-bats. Franco joined the Phillies in September but had just 10 hits in 56 at-bats. He spent the offseason in the Caribbean and batted a combined .265 with eight home runs in the Dominican Winter League and the Caribbean Series.

Amaro said he talked with Charlie Manuel about Franco. Manuel, who was Franco's hitting instructor this spring, told Amaro that Franco needs to have some success in the big leagues to build confidence.

"He didn't fare particularly well when he got a call-up last year but it was part of the same thing," Amaro said. "It doesn't happen very often and it's not a great predictor of when guys don't have immediate success in the big leagues. Ryan Howard, Mike Trout, all types of guys. It's takes some time. This game is too difficult."

Along with Franco, the Phillies also optioned pitchers Joely Rodriguez and Nefi Ogando. Ogando, a lefthander, allowed four hits and one run in 51/3 innings. Neither pitcher has pitched past double A. The righthanded Rodriguez allowed four hits and one earned run in nine innings.

Amaro said Rodriguez looks confident on the mound and works quickly. The Phillies acquired him in December from Pittsburgh for Antonio Bastardo.

"He's got a good steady demeanor, a great kid," Amaro said. "I think he's going to help us. I'm not sure when, but at some point this year he'll probably help us."

Elvis Araujo was optioned to minor-league camp. The lefthander pitched in five games this spring and allowed one run and two hits.