The Reporter (Lansdale, PA)
Franco made his own luck with Phillies
Became expendable after acquisition of Dickerson
PHILADELPHIA >> Maybe if Maikel Franco could re-shape himself into something the Phillies really need ... like a relief pitcher? ... he wouldn’t have to be wondering how he went from major league regular to has-been Pig in the space of one strange Sunday.
“Maikey’s upset,” Phils manager Gabe Kapler confirmed before yet another upsetting loss to the lousy Chicago White Sox. “He wants to be on our major league roster and that’s completely understandable.”
Since he’s been a steadily positive clubhouse presence, if not a steady productive presence, for the Phillies for the past five years, it is understandable that Franco might have been a bit confused when Kapler told him he was being demoted to Class AAA Lehigh Valley before what became a 10-5 White Sox washout.
But what Franco might consider with the perspective of time is how his main misunderstanding is what he’s done at the plate, the place where as a young prospect predictions of quick grandeur accompanied the dropping of his name. As a major leaguer, not so much. Franco was a shouldbe fearsome power hitter with a terrific glove who wound up shortchanging his talents; not from a lack of skill, but more of
poor attention to detail.
Case in point: Franco’s intensely frustrating streaky persona at the plate. Supposedly coachable, he still pulls balls on the ground too often, or simply pulls off them. With the advancement of analytical coaching, he too often seems to ignore matters of launch angle or pitching study.
Doesn’t make him lazy. Just makes him a frustrating presence in the middle of the lineup.
Or, in Franco’s case under Kapler ... in the No. 8 hole. Not any longer.
For the sake of a pregame explanation of Franco’s demotion, Kapler went into the obvious factors. With the acquisition last week of veteran outfielder Corey Dickerson and the pending return of injured outfielder Jay Bruce, and with a recent semi-surge by would-be centerfielder (and occasional overtime relief pitcher) Roman Quinn, the Phillies again were getting a little crowded in the outfield.
What’s more, Kapler continues to have confidence in second baseman Cesar Hernandez, and for good reason — for all of his occasional foibles, Hernandez was hitting .284 entering play Sunday. So if Scott Kingery doesn’t have to play center field, he gets to return to an infield position, which is where he belongs. Kingery’s usual middle-infield spots taken by Hernandez and shortstop Jean Segura this year, Kapler determined and hinted the other day that Kingery might be looking at some third base shifts.
Sunday, the manager doubled down on that consideration.
“The most logical way for us to get Scott reps right now is at third base,” Kapler said. “That means we have to be very cognizant of our bench roles.”
Kingery, who won a rather historic contract in spring training of his rookie season, has quickly emerged as a player worthy of such high regard. In other words, he isn’t going to be a bench guy going forward. Who is?
Sean Rodriguez. Need we go on or is that enough to make you shake your head?
“Sean Rodriguez plays shortstop, he plays center field, he plays left field, he plays right field, he hits lefthanded pitching, so he profiles well in that role,” Kapler countered. “With Maikey, frankly, he doesn’t play multiple positions, he plays one position. He hasn’t really hit left-handed pitching well. So we have a left-handed power bat and on-base threat in Brad Miller and we definitely want to have that profile available on our bench, especially when we have Corey Dickerson and potentially Jay Bruce in the lineup together.”
And so, Franco goes. Or, as the almost apologetic Kapler put it, “This felt like the appropriate time to make a move that’s very difficult for the clubhouse because we all care deeply about Maikel Franco. He’s an exceptional teammate, a great person and we all love him.”
Consider it a fond farewell, then ... but one wellearned.
Rodriguez, in his limited role, has a .974 OPS against left-handed pitching this season. Yes, that’s only in 36 such at-bats, but sometimes numbers only speak to perception rather than reality. The real take is that Franco is hitting just .231 with a pedestrian .702 OPS overall. He has 15 home runs, but none since July 14. Moreover, his slash numbers of .198/.278/.360 in 86 at-bats against lefties is abysmal.
That’s one of the many things he can work on now that he’ll play every day with the IronPigs. Along with the streakiness, and the lack of placing balls and adjusting launch angles and timing and footwork in the box and...
“There are times when he’s able to get the ball in the air to the middle of the field,” Kapler said of Franco, “and then he goes through stretches where there are lots of ground balls to the left side of the diamond or weaker popups. He certainly hasn’t made enough adjustments to be an overall powerful offensive contributor. You don’t need me to say that, you can look at his numbers.”
Compared to what they should be, they’re more than a bit disappointing. But the Maikel Franco who had a great half-season for an awful and rebuilding Phillies club in 2015 has evolved into a player of repeated offensive disappointments ever since. In 635 major league games over his career, he’s hitting .249 with 100 home runs and 334 RBIs with a .733 OPS.
There are worse hitters playing third base, just not many with higher expectations so often falling short of them. Franco’s streaky plate persona has driven hitting coaches and managers (both Pete Mackanin and Kapler) to the point of distraction, but his often aggressive and sometimes flawless third base play, his too-occasional bursts of awesome power at the plate and his outsized, positive personality have made him a Phillies fixture. Until now.
Until he’s eventually moved aside for good?
“The way I see it, he could be back as early as an injury, or, on the long side, something like September 1,” Kapler said. “That doesn’t sound as permanent to us as it might sound to you.”
For Franco, it doesn’t sound all that hopeful, either. Might be high time for him to make his own brand of baseball luck.