Maikel Franco impresses early in Phillies camp

Maikel Franco impresses early in Phillies camp
February 21, 2014, 5:00 pm
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Maikel Franco (pictured with ball) chases Clete Thomas in a rundown drill. Franco has impressed Ryne Sandberg and Larry Bowa early in Phillies camp. (AP)

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- It’s way too early for Phillies officials to make roster decisions. Heck, the exhibition games haven’t even started yet.

But nine days into camp, several players have made impressions on manager Ryne Sandberg and his staff.

Relievers Jake Diekman, B.J. Rosenberg and Justin DeFratus have thrown the ball well in workouts.

And on the position side, corner infielder Maikel Franco has caught some eyes with his glove, arm and bat.

“He’s one of the better guys,” Sandberg said. “He’s getting some good rips at live pitching. I just like the way he uses the whole field. He’s not a one-way type of a hitter. He does the situational things very well. He has good basic mechanics and fundamentals that allow him to cover the whole plate and use the whole field.”

Franco, 21, was recently rated the 17th-best prospect in the game by Baseball America magazine. He was the Phillies’ top minor-league player in 2013, hitting a combined .320 with 31 homers and 103 RBIs at Single A and Double A.

Franco is a third baseman by trade. He began to play some first base at Double A late last season and will continue to get time at the position this season. He has gotten fundamental work at both positions in this camp.

“His actions are good at first base,” Sandberg said.

At third, Franco has good hands and a strong arm. His range is adequate.

All the infielders in camp have worked on fundamentals with coach Larry Bowa. Bowa likes what he's seen of Franco.

"Lots of talent," Bowa said.

Sandberg really likes the way Franco fields a ball.

“It seems the harder the ball is hit at him the softer he gets,” Sandberg said. “I’m looking forward to seeing him in game action. I want to get a good look at him.”

Franco had less than 300 plate appearances at Double A last season, so he could open the season back at that level. Then again, he looked very good in his time at Double A -- he hit .339 with 15 homers and 51 RBIs -- and could be pushed to Triple A.

It’s unlikely that Franco will open the season in the majors. Cody Asche showed much promise in a 50-game audition at third base last season and is the lead candidate for the third base job. But Sandberg reminded once again Friday, “There’s a competition at third base.”

No one knows that better than Asche.

He has come into camp taking nothing for granted.

“I don’t look at it as it’s my job to lose,” Asche said. “I look at it as it’s a spot I need to get.”