Schmidt's frank critique: Maikel Franco didn't live up to expectations in 2016

Schmidt's frank critique: Maikel Franco didn't live up to expectations in 2016

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Mike Schmidt arrived in Phillies camp on Friday and was pretty frank when the subject of Maikel Franco came up.

"I was disappointed," the Hall of Fame third baseman said of the current third baseman's 2016 season. "I had a lot higher expectations for Maikel. I may have had the highest expectations, as a matter of fact."

Indeed, it was a year ago at this time when Schmidt said Franco had MVP potential.

Franco, who turned 24 in August, drove in a team-high 88 runs in 2016 and shared the team lead in homers (25) with Ryan Howard. However, he hit just .255 with a .733 OPS. In 80 games in 2015, he hit .280 with a .840 OPS. Those numbers helped fuel Schmidt's high expectations for Franco last season.

"He didn't live up to my expectations last year, but maybe that's part of the plan for him in a stepping stone year," Schmidt said. "I think he should definitely go to the 30-100 category this year. Definitely, barring any injuries.

"If I was mentoring Maikel Franco right now, I would say, 'Son, we're going to be the MVP. And nothing is going to stop us but an injury. And we're going to stretch like hell before every game.' That's what I would be thinking. If I had that talent, I wouldn't be thinking about 25 and 88. I would be thinking about the MVP."

Franco's shortcomings have been well publicized. He is not a selective hitter and everyone from the front office, which wants to build around players who "control the strike zone," to hitting coach Matt Stairs would like to see him improve in that area. Simple experience could help Franco in that area this season. So could the addition of an experienced bat (Michael Saunders) behind him. Franco was a marked man in the Phillies' lineup and often expanded his strike zone as he tried to carry too big a load. The addition of Saunders and Howie Kendrick could help take some pressure off him.

"The area that he has to develop better is game-planning at home plate and understanding there is a guy in the batter's box behind him and that a walk with men on second and third is a possibility," Schmidt said. "His desire to drive in those two runs or getting three with a home run swing leads to those at-bats where you give an at-bat away because you don't have the right game plan.

"It's not mechanics and it's not physical -- it's more up here," Schmidt said, pointing to his head.

Franco could benefit from the hiring of Stairs, who replaced Steve Henderson.

"In Matt's case, there will be more time spent on the mental side of hitting and more in-game coaching," Schmidt said. "I think that is a big addition to our hitters. No disrespect to the former guy -- he's a wonderful guy. But I think that Matt will be more into a different message, something new and more on the game plan and mental, managing yourself in the batter's box, making adjustments.

"It's not that Steve wasn't the same way, but it will be a better communication channel as far as looking for a fastball middle-in 1-0. Let's not be hitting it over the opposite dugout. Let's be looking for a ball to pull. We have a lot of young kids who go into the batter's box and say, 'Here I am,' see the ball and hit it. And you'll see a 2-0 pitch fouled over the first base dugout. At 2-0, they are hitting more defensively and they should be hitting offensively."

Schmidt saw some of Franco's selectivity issues up close as a part of the CSN Philly broadcast team last year.

He also saw something else that he believes Franco needs to improve on.

"Sometimes, Maikel looks like, 'Where's his mind?'" Schmidt said. "He kind of sometimes lets moments in games go based upon the score or based upon attitude. I'm not saying this disrespectfully -- it's normal. Not everyone is like Pete Rose. He knows what's happened in every at-bat for every player on the team during the game. He's sitting on the top step of the dugout screaming at the other team. Not everyone is like that. Your mind can wander and I think sometimes his does a little bit."

Schmidt still believes Franco has MVP potential and he intends on telling him that during his time in camp as a guest instructor.

"That's what I would say to him right now -- 'There's no reason you can't be the best player in the league,'" Schmidt said.

Phillies 7, Blue Jays 1: Vince Velasquez and Tommy Joseph show off their power

Phillies 7, Blue Jays 1: Vince Velasquez and Tommy Joseph show off their power

BOX SCORE

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Phillies showed a little power in their 7-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday night.

Tommy Joseph provided some of it.

Vince Velasquez provided a lot of it.

Joseph crushed a two-run home run to left field and also lined a double off the center-field wall on his way to a four-hit game. The double came off his bat at 109 miles per hour. The homer was his third of the spring.

Meanwhile, Velasquez showed off his big fastball in striking out seven Blue Jays over five innings of work. Vinny Velo's final pitch of the night was a 97-mph dart past a swinging Jose Bautista.

"That pitch felt really good coming out of my hand," Velasquez said. "Sometimes my fastball slips a little bit and I yank it, but this one I got right behind and threw it right through the catcher."

Velasquez actually struck out the side in that fifth inning against three pretty good hitters in Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson and Bautista.

"That last inning, he really let it go," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Pitch economy remains an area that Velasquez needs to improve on. He threw 87 pitches. But he was pleased with the way he attacked hitters in that final inning of work.

"I didn't attack in one inning," he said. "But in that last inning, I stopped fiddling around and trusted my stuff. I need to do that the whole time."

Velasquez gave up just one run, a homer to Martin. He allowed five hits and walked two.

Velasquez had a busy night. He drove home a run with a ground out against Aaron Sanchez. He also walked against Sanchez and scored a run on a dash home from third base after Freddy Galvis got hung up between first and second. Galvis waved Velasquez home. After crossing home plate, Velasquez, rather humorously, almost ran into the netted backstop.

"I just had momentum. I got excited," he said. "As soon as I saw Tulo (shortstop Troy Tulowitzki) make eye contact with Freddy, I booked it. He's going to think, 'Pitchers can't run,' so I showed off my athleticism."

After the outing, Velasquez pronounced himself ready for the regular season.

"I'm good to go," he said.

He made five Grapefruit League starts and gave up eight runs in 19 2/3 innings. He walked nine and struck out 25.

"It's been a strong, healthy, successful spring training," he said.

Velasquez will likely start the home opener on April 7. He will need to get some work in this weekend. The Phillies leave Florida on Friday. He could stay behind for a day and pitch at the minor-league complex if needed.

Offense clicks
The Phillies had 12 hits. They had 15 in Sunday's 6-3 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Up next
The Phillies play the Blue Jays again on Tuesday night. That game will be in Clearwater. Aaron Nola will start against Marco Estrada.

Andrew Knapp to make Phillies' roster -- remaining roster decisions are close

Andrew Knapp to make Phillies' roster -- remaining roster decisions are close

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The pathway for Andrew Knapp to make the Phillies' opening day roster as the backup catcher was cleared way back in November when he was added to the 40-man roster.

The job all but became Knapp's on Monday when the team released two veteran catchers who were not on the 40-man roster. When Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday were let go, Knapp became one of just two catchers in camp, the other being starter Cameron Rupp (see story).

So it's pretty obvious that the 25-year-old Knapp will open the season with the big club -- even though nothing will become official until rosters are filed with the commissioner's office this weekend.

"Obviously there are four or five days left," Knapp said. "I'm just going to keep trying to make good impressions and try to win a job. I'm keeping my head down, trying not to think about it too much."

Knapp was the Phillies' second-round draft pick of Cal-Berkeley in 2013. He has never played in the majors.

"It would be a dream come true," he said. "Everyone hopes to get called up at some point but to make a team on opening day would be pretty special and it would be the best moment in my career so far."

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin acknowledged that Knapp would probably make the club.

Mackanin would like to have the rest of his roster in order over the next day or two.

"As soon as possible," he said. "Because the last four or five games I'd like to play almost as if it were a season -- using the bullpen that way, using the bench in a certain way, seeing what it looks like, our bench guys, all our hitters. We just don't want to make a bad decision so we're just going to string it out as long as we can."

Roster questions must still be answered on the bench and in the bullpen.

How does the bench shape up? Andres Blanco, Aaron Altherr and Knapp are set. The Phils are expected to go with a five-man bench so that leaves two openings. There are four players vying for those spots: Chris Coghlan, Daniel Nava, Brock Stassi and Jesmuel Valentin. Valentin has impressed, but at 22 years old, he would benefit from playing every day at Triple A.

Mackanin praised Stassi's work on Monday. If Stassi makes the club, the final spot would come down to Coghlan and Nava.

"Stassi has obviously made a great impression, mainly because, not necessarily because of his results, but the fact that he had a lot of quality at-bats," Mackanin said. "It looks like he can handle making adjustments to the different pitchers and different situations. He seemed to handle left-handers well. He made a good impression, as has Coughlan. Nava has also been consistent throughout the spring."

Stassi, Coghlan and Nava are all non-roster players so the Phils would have to clear 40-man roster space to add any of them.

Two spots remain open in the bullpen. Adam Morgan, Joely Rodriguez, Luis Garcia, Alec Asher and Cesar Ramos are the candidates. All but Ramos is on the 40-man roster.

How will this all shake out?

More answers are probably coming Tuesday.