Maikel Franco reported to the Lehigh Valley IronPigs Wednesday afternoon after being optioned out by the Phillies on Sunday. As rain poured down on the field, Franco stood in a hallway leading to the dugout speaking with reporters about a season that started with promise and wound up with him back at Triple-A.
“I feel great,” Franco told reporters about his attitude toward playing in the minors. “I know it’s a tough moment for me, but at the end of the day, I’m just coming in and trying to do everything that I can to get myself better. I have to get better.”
Franco started the season on a roll, seemingly taking to hitting eighth in the Phillies revamped lineup. His numbers were good enough that he was considered the ‘best number-eight hitter in the league’ at one point. He was using all fields, laying off low and away pitches and not looking to hammer every pitch 500 feet. Through April, Franco had hit seven home runs and driven in 22, while batting .252 out of the eight spot in the lineup. Not exactly all-star numbers, but it put him on a solid pace and there was hope for a big season considering his newfound patience and control at the plate.
The Franco roller coaster went low in May when he hit .170 before coming back to a .267 average for the month of June. From there, the season continued to have some highs, but also a lot of lows.
“That’s baseball,” said Franco about his struggles at the plate this season. “You’re not going to be really good for six months, you’re going to have some struggles. It’s going to happen for everybody, for every good player, you’re going to have those moments, so when those moments come, you have to stay positive.”
After all of the guessing about what Franco’s demeanor would be when he arrived at Lehigh Valley, being positive is the definitely the approach that Franco is taking. For their part, the Phillies have used minor league demotions to rejuvenate players. Last season, Hector Neris spent time back at Lehigh Valley and it worked to turn around a slide he was in at the major league level. Earlier this season, Nick Pivetta spent time with the IronPigs and at least temporarily, it helped him. Unfortunately, what he discovered at Lehigh Valley didn’t stick for long and he wound up losing his spot in the rotation.
Franco reached out to Neris to pick his brain on approaching the stint with Lehigh Valley and is learning from that.
“I talked with Nery [Hector Neris] who was in this situation last year and how he got through it. He’s a good friend of mine and I listened to everything he told me and I’m just going to try to get through it,” explained Franco.
On Sunday, Franco was summoned to Gabe Kapler‘s office where the manager and GM Matt Klentak were waiting. They told him of the decision to send him to the minors, which Franco admittedly wasn’t happy about. After his discussion with Neris and some soul searching, he is now looking at it as a way to work on improving himself.
“I’m not going to say I felt happy, but at the end of the day I understand the decision and I know what happened. I’m just trying to forget all of that stuff and try to get better every single day and try to do enough to be my best,” Franco explained. “It happened and at the end of the day I don’t forget about being here and I’ll just go out there every single day and play and do my best for my guys in there [the clubhouse].
“The only thing that I want to do is try to be myself. Just coming in and figure out things for myself and do everything I can do and make myself feel great. I’m going to work very hard every single day.”
Neither Klentak nor Kapler gave Franco any assurances about being recalled when rosters expand in September. They did state publicly though that Scott Kingery is the team’s third baseman going forward. They also pointed out that Franco’s lack of defensive flexibility doesn’t bode well for him as a utility player, leaving his spot in the organization in doubt.
“I don’t want to think about it that way. At the end of the day it’s something that you can’t control and for me, if I can do better, that’s what I want to do. The thing is that for me, I know what I’m capable to do and I know my talent. I just think about right here and now and this moment and try to control this moment and be myself,” Franco stressed. “It’s not my decision and it’s not something that I can control. I’m just going to try to turn the page and he [Kingery] feels comfortable and it’s good for him. At the end of the day, it’s just about what their decision is.”
Lehigh Valley manager Gary Jones held Franco out of the starting lineup Wednesday night, but he figures to be in the lineup Thursday against Louisville, playing third base. Franco’s presence also presents a juggling act for Jones, who also has prospect Austin Listi available at third. Mitch Walding is also looking for time at third, but is battling a shoulder injury and hasn’t played since July 30th.
It will be interesting to see how the Phillies handle Franco going forward. It’s likely that they’ll attempt to trade him during the off-season even though his value is low. Short of finding a trade partner, it’s not out of the question that the Phillies could non-tender Franco and make him a free agent. Either way, it doesn’t appear that Franco has an extended future in the Phillies organization.