Asche set at third as Franco heads to minors

Asche set at third as Franco heads to minors
March 22, 2014, 6:00 pm

Cody Asche (left) is hitting .175 with three home runs this spring. Maikel Franco was assigned to minor-league camp Saturday morning. (USA Today Images)

BRADENTON, Fla. – It hasn’t been the easiest spring training for Cody Asche.

He missed several games after being hit on the hand by a pitch. That slowed his progress early in camp.

At times, Asche has looked a little tight. Maybe that was to be expected as he came into the camp as the lead candidate to be the opening-day third baseman with the friendly warning: Watch out for top prospect Maikel Franco.

Well, Franco was reassigned to minor-league camp Saturday morning, a move that signaled the expected: The Phillies will go with Asche at third base to open the season.

Manager Ryne Sandberg was not ready to fully acknowledge the obvious. No surprise there. There are seven spring-training games left and he wants Asche to keep pushing.

“Cody will play in these games and get ready for the start of the season and then we'll go from there,” Sandberg said.

Asche spent the last two months of 2013 as the Phillies' starting third baseman, hitting .235 with five homers and 22 RBIs in 50 games.

Though No. 1 on the depth chart, he came into camp taking nothing for granted and he’s keeping that mind-set as spring training comes to an end.

“Until my name is on the lineup card on Day 1, it’s anybody’s job,” the 23-year-old former Nebraska Cornhusker said. “I’ve still got work to do.”

Asche is hitting just .175 (7 for 40) on the spring, but his swings have been better lately. He took a beauty in the fifth inning of Saturday's 5-3 loss to the Pirates, driving a ball far over the right-field wall for his third home run of the spring.

Asche has homered in two of his last three games.

“He has been swinging the bat better the last few days,” Sandberg said. “Who knows? Maybe it’s a situation of him relaxing and getting after it. He had some good aggressive swings today.”

Franco had a stellar season in 2013, hitting .320 with 31 homers and 103 RBIs in 134 games split between Single A Clearwater and Double A Reading.

Franco had just seven hits, all singles, in 38 at-bats in big-league camp. He impressed Sandberg with his soft hands and strong throwing arm at third base, but has work to do in becoming a more polished hitter.

In time, he could be the homegrown, right-handed power stick the Phillies have long lusted for.

“He needs to get some seasoning and work on some things, more on the offensive side,” Sandberg said. “He needs to work on shortening his swing and getting some better line-drive type of contact.”

It’s unclear whether Franco will open the season at Double A or Triple A. Organization officials are making those decisions in the coming days.