With an emphasis on his preparation, slugging infielder ready to compete
By Jesse Sanchez
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Maikel Franco is usually among the first players to arrive each day at the stadium.
The Phillies infielder, MLB.com's No. 5 third-base prospect, starts his morning with some early work in the field, followed by a few swings in the cage. Then there's batting practice, more glove work and time in the gym. He also finds a few minutes to squeeze in a bite to eat.
Then it's game time.
It's a routine Franco developed over the summer and stuck to during the winter. Now, he's hoping the routine will propel him to a starting job in the big leagues in Philadelphia. Racking up almost 930 at-bats since the start of Spring Training last year doesn't hurt, either.
"It's been a little bit difficult, but when you work hard, everything turns out better," Franco said. "I have a routine and I don't want to lose it so I can arrive to the United States ready to play."
Franco expects competition when he arrives in Clearwater, Fla., for Spring Training in a few weeks. He is listed behind Cody Asche on the club's depth chart at third base.
"[The Phillies] have not said much to me about Opening Day or my status. I just have to show up and do what I have to do and let them make that decision," Franco said. "I hope everything works out for me, I stay healthy and give the best that I can."
Franco finished 1-for-5 in the Dominican Republic's 6-1 victory against Cuba on Tuesday at Hiram Bithorn Stadium. Franco's Gigantes del Cibao are now 1-0, while Cuba's Pinar del Rio club dropped to 0-2.
"[The Phillies] told me to work on everything, and working on my routine makes everything work out much better," Franco said. "Don't lose that routine no matter how you are doing -- good or bad."
It's been a big year for Franco, who is ranked No. 55 on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list.
Franco got off to a slow start at Triple-A Lehigh Valley to start the 2014 campaign, hitting .170 in his first 153 at-bats for the Iron Pigs, but he finished strong. He ended up with 16 home runs and 78 RBIs, with 33 doubles and a .257 batting average in 556 plate appearances. Franco was selected to play in the Futures Game and went 0-for-2 for the World Team.
Franco would go on to make his big league debut for the Phils with an 0-for-3 effort against the Braves on Sept. 2. He finished with a .179 batting average with two doubles and five RBIs in 56 at-bats. Franco said he learned by watching veterans Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins prepare for each game, and he's trying to emulate them.
"He's clearly one of our better prospects, and he's getting close," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "Winter ball is outstanding for his development, and for him to play in the Caribbean Series is a great experience, a great learning tool for him. We hope he can continue to build on that experience."
It's a surprising turn of events, considering Franco first tried out for the Phillies in 2008, a few months before his 16th birthday, and ran a slow eight-second 60-yard dash that scared many scouts away. The Phils eventually signed Franco for $100,000 two years later.
Now, Franco is hunting for a big league job.
"I know it's been a long season, but you have to work hard and prepare physically and mentally with Spring Training coming up soon," Franco said. "I'm trying to do the best work I can do to make sure everything turns out fine."
The attitude seems to be working. Franco rode a 13-game hitting streak for the Gigantes during the playoffs, hitting two home runs and driving in seven runs to lead Cibao to a 12-5 victory against Oriente to propel them to the Caribbean Series. He finished the night 3-for-4.
Overall, Franco hit .337 with four home runs in 186 at-bats in 24 playoff games. He also hit .272 with a .469 slugging percentage in 147 at-bats in 38 games during the regular season for the Gigantes. Franco hit seven home runs and drove in 29 runs.
"What Maikel is doing is not a secret anymore. He's one of the best players not only in the Dominican, but I think he has the talent to be a real impact player in the Major Leagues," Dominican Republic manager Audo Vicente said. "I think he's going to be one of the top 10 to 15 players in baseball. All he needs to do is to stay healthy and continue to do what he is doing."
The Phillies' pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training on Feb. 18 in Florida. Position players report to camp five days later.
Expect Franco to be there early.
"I'm staying positive," Franco said. "I know that I have confidence and I will give everything I have."
Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.