ATLANTA — The Phillies will promote prospect Maikel Franco, two sources said, to make him the team's youngest position player since Jimmy Rollins debuted in 2000. Franco, 22, could start Tuesday at Turner Field against Braves lefthander Mike Minor.
The Dominican infielder is expected to be among five September call-ups. Those players were to be notified Monday afternoon after triple-A Lehigh Valley's season finale in Scranton. Franco started that game and doubled in the first inning.
Franco, one of the youngest players in the International League, recovered from a slow start. The key was a two-day break at the end of June, which included instruction with former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. Since then, Franco batted .324 with a .922 OPS. He signed in 2010 for $100,000.
The list of Phillies position players younger than Franco in the last 30 seasons is two names long: Jimmy Rollins and Scott Rolen. Rollins debuted at 21 years, 295 days old. Rolen was 21 years, 119 days old when he debuted in 1996. Both became franchise cornerstones by age 25.
How much Franco, a righthanded batter, plays in September is a debated subject. He could see at bats at either first or third whenever the Phillies face a lefty. And the team will have a designated hitter for three games at Oakland, which should free a spot for Franco.
He played 23 games at first base with the IronPigs in addition to his regular workload at third. Numerous scouts who watched Franco over the course of the season believe he is good enough in the field to stick at third. His range will be limited, but his glove and arm are considered decent.
Franco has represented the Phillies in each of the last two Futures Games, a July showcase for the game's top prospects. Baseball America ranked Franco as the 17th best prospect before the 2014 season started.
The September promotion increases the chances that Franco reaches free agency after the 2020 season. But that was probable given the strong likelihood of Franco being on next season's opening-day roster. He had to be added to the 40-man roster this winter to protect him from Rule 5 selection.
If Franco returns to the minors next season for two months, his free agency could be delayed until after the 2021 season. A player gains free-agent rights with six full years of service time.