READING, Pa. — Of all the impressive statistics posted by the Phillies’ top hitting prospect Maikel Franco in his first two weeks playing for Double A Reading, one stands out more than all of the others.
Though he finished June riding an 18-game hitting streak with a .468 batting average, four homers, two triples and 11 RBIs, the number that stands out is, one …
As in just one strikeout in 48 plate appearances following a promotion from Single A.
Yes, Franco has been so good for Reading that it’s a surprise when he makes an out. So when he struck out in his first plate appearance Monday night at FirstEnergy Stadium against the Giants’ affiliate Richmond, Franco’s strikeout total finally caught up to the number of triples he’s hit.
Regardless, to have just two strikeouts in 52 plate appearances at any level of pro ball is pretty impressive.
“He makes quick adjustments on pitches in the zone. You can’t get him out the same way twice,” Reading manager Dusty Wathan said. “He’s a mature hitter for his age. He’s an aggressive guy, but at the same time he makes adjustments from pitch to pitch. He chases a breaking ball one minute and the next time they throw him another one in the dirt he doesn’t swing at it and he gets a good pitch to hit.”
After the four-pitch strikeout in the first inning, Franco just missed a breaking pitch, catching it at the end of the bat for a long fly out to left field. A ground out on a 2-2 pitch and another deep fly out to left field gave Franco his first 0-for-4 night at Reading.
As a result, his batting average went tumbling down to .431.
“I bet in a month he’s not hitting .470,” Wathan said. “He’ll have a couple more homers and strikeouts, too, I’ll bet.”
After doubling his strikeout total in one night, that’s a safe bet. Still, with a quick and violent swing from the right side of the plate that is reminiscent of Vladimir Guerrero, and a good glove and strong throwing arm at third base, Franco is poised to be the run-producing third baseman the Phillies have been looking for since Scott Rolen left town over a decade ago.
But for those thinking Franco could be in line for a September call-up or a promotion to Triple A before the end of the season, slow down. Franco has been playing for Reading for just 12 games. He’s far from ready for the big leagues.
“For a 20-year-old at this level he needs at-bats to see pitches and make adjustments,” Wathan said.
Regardless, it’s been a spectacular two weeks for Franco. He was named to the Futures Game, which will be played the Sunday before the All-Star Game at Citi Field in New York and has one scout singing his praises, saying Franco has the “best impact bat I've seen in minors this year.”
Even Wathan, who played alongside guys like Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips, Cliff Lee, Josh Beckett, Raul Ibanez and Freddy Garcia as they rose through the ranks, doesn’t remember seeing a player make such an impact in so little time.
It’s almost as if Franco doesn’t know there is supposed to be an adjustment period for a hitter at Double A.
“He was hot when he got up here. Sometimes the younger they are the better they do when they get up here because they don’t know any better,” Wathan explained. “They don’t know it’s supposed to be hard. They’re too stupid to know better, which is a good thing.”
Wathan doesn’t expect Franco to be hitting nearly .470 at the end of July, nor does he expect Monday’s whiff to be the only one of the month. There are plenty of things Franco can work on while he’s making his way through Reading. For instance, Franco can try to hit the ball to the opposite field a little more, but when the opposition pitches in on him like they have lately, it’s kind of tough to go the other way.
Instead, like any player at any level, Franco can work on his consistency. It’s one thing to dominate for two weeks, says Wathan.
“People think that because he’s a No. 1 or 2 or 3-rated prospect, he’s supposed to do certain things. But the way I look at him is he’s here, he’s supposed to be here and he’s doing well,” Wathan said. “I think people make a huge deal out of 10 games. Let’s see how he does at the end of the year and evaluate it. That’s why we play so many games.
“A lot of guys can do it for 10 days. Let’s see him do it for 10 years.”
The Phillies certainly hope people are talking about how good Franco is a decade from now.
Gillies moving up
Before Monday night’s game, outfielder Tyson Gillies was summoned back to Triple A Lehigh Valley. Gillies opened the season with the IronPigs, but was demoted to Reading after 18 games where he went 9 for 61 (.148).
Gillies played 51 games at Reading where he batted .267 with seven homers, four triples and 21 RBIs.
“He’s played well the last 10 days, especially on defense,” Wathan said of Gillies. “He came down here and did what he needed to do, played his butt off and got himself together.”
With Gillies headed to Lehigh Valley, infielder Troy Hanzawa and outfielder Derrick Mitchell were demoted from Triple A to Reading. The organization also announced that it had released infielder Andy Gonzalez.
Additionally, relief pitcher Kyle Simon, acquired last July in the trade with the Orioles for Jim Thome, was placed on the disabled list with elbow soreness.