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.

Nick Williams giving Phillies missing ingredient — a feared hitter — early in career

Nick Williams giving Phillies missing ingredient — a feared hitter — early in career

MIAMI -- Nick Williams has been a major-leaguer less than three weeks and his progress has accelerated so swiftly that the Phillies are already trying to pump the breaks.

“I’m not going to say a whole lot about him right now,” manager Pete Mackanin said of his 23-year-old rookie right fielder. “I don’t want to jinx myself.”

Williams, elevated to the three-hole in the batting order on Tuesday, is batting .316 with four doubles, three triples and two homers — including one grand slam — in just 16 games.

In the past six games, Williams has 11 RBIs. And he is one of just four Phillies in more than 100 years to produce multiple RBIs and multiple hits in four straight games, a list that includes Greg Luzinski (1977); Chuck Klein (1932) and Lefty O’Doul (1929).

Williams is also one of just three Phillies with an OPS north of .800. Williams leads the team in OPS at .963. He is followed by Aaron Altherr (.898), who figures to be out multiple weeks due to a hamstring injury; and Howie Kendrick (.879), who is on an injury rehab assignment at Double-A Reading.

Kendrick, who is in the last year of his contract, will likely be gone soon, perhaps by the July 31 trading deadline, if he can prove he is healthy enough to contribute to a playoff contender.

Meanwhile, Altherr and Williams have both played right field this year. Assuming Williams continues to play well, Mackanin will have to sort it out, and, presumably, one of those two players shifts to left.

For now, the Phillies need the quiet Williams to continue making noise with his bat because this is a team that ranks second-to-last in the majors with 365 runs scored.

And that’s after taking two out of three games from the Miami Marlins this week in a breakout offensive performance by the entire team. The Phillies scored 20 runs in the series, their second-best showing in a three-game set all year.

The Phillies had five players come through with multi-hit games in Tuesday’s 5-2 win over the Marlins. Seven players turned that trick in Wednesday’s 10-3 victory in which the Phillies set a season high with 20 hits (see story).

“Hitting is contagious,” Williams said in advance of Friday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers, which starts a 10-game homestand. “When you see so many guys do it, I always think of it as, ‘If he can do it, I can do it.’ ”

Mackanin this week talked up Maikel Franco, who has been used as the cleanup batter 38 times this year and has hit fifth and sixth 20 times each.

Franco, according to Mackanin, leveled off his swing in a productive batting-practice session on Tuesday, and the manager predicts a big second half from him.

Perhaps Franco can settle in as the full-time cleanup hitter.

Perhaps Franco can provide quality protection for Williams in the three-hole.

Perhaps this can become a thing, Williams and Franco.

Fact is, age-wise, they are well-positioned to grow together with the Phillies. Franco is 24 — he just seems older because he broke into the majors in 2014 — and Williams is 23.

And although Williams is younger, he seems mature. These thrilling three weeks do not appear to have fazed him. He is not, for example, trying to pull everything.

“Growing up,” said Williams, who is from Galveston, Texas, “I always heard, ‘Hit it where it’s pitched.’

“If (pitchers throw) away, hit it that way. If they come in, pull it. … I just trust my hands.”

At 32-61, the Phillies are miles away from contention, and further still from their 2008 team that won the World Series.

Progress has been slow, but finding some hitters that will strike fear in the hearts and minds of opposing pitchers and managers will be a fine start.

Intentional walks are often a show of respect. Right now, no one on the Phillies has drawn more than four intentional passes.

If you look back at the ’08 Phillies, Ryan Howard was walked intentionally 17 times. Chase Utley was walked intentionally 14 times.

That’s what happens when you hit 48 homers like Howard did that year.

That’s what happens when you hit 41 doubles like Utley did that year.

That’s what happens when you’re dangerous.

The Phillies are hoping that Williams, a former second-round pick and part of the package received from the Texas Rangers in the 2015 Cole Hamels trade, can be anywhere near that dangerous one day.

For now, though, Mackanin would prefer less talking and more hitting.

“I just want to watch him continue to play,” Mackanin said, “(continue to) be aggressive at the plate.”

Best of MLB: Nolan Arenado racks up 3 HRs, 7 RBIs in Rockies' win

Best of MLB: Nolan Arenado racks up 3 HRs, 7 RBIs in Rockies' win

DENVER -- Nolan Arenado lined three homers as part of his five-hit afternoon and tied a career-high with seven RBIs, helping the Colorado Rockies complete a three-game sweep of the San Diego Padres with an 18-4 victory Wednesday.

Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon also homered on a scorching day when the Rockies had a season-high 21 hits. Gerardo Parra ran his streak of reaching base to 10 straight plate appearances over three games before flying out in the fifth. He finished with four singles.

Arenado had a pair of RBI singles to start the game, followed by solo shots in the fourth and fifth innings, and a three-run homer in the sixth. He had a chance at a fourth homer in the eighth and lined out to left.

Jon Gray (3-1) kept the Padres in check until running out of steam. The right-hander allowed all four of his runs in the sixth -- his last inning of work.

Padres starter Clayton Richard (5-10) lasted just 3 2/3 innings and gave up 11 runs, 10 earned, inflating his ERA from 4.75 to 5.35. He also matched a team record by allowing 14 hits (see full recap).

Posey’s pinch hit lifts Giants over Indians
SAN FRANCISCO -- Buster Posey pinch hit a two-out, two-run double in the bottom of the eighth inning as the San Francisco Giants defeated the Cleveland Indians 5-4 on Wednesday.

Posey, on a scheduled rest day, doubled off the wall on a 3-2 slider on the seventh offering from Indians reliever Bryan Shaw (2-4).

Indians first baseman Carlos Santana booted an infield grounder that figured prominently in the three-run rally.

With two aboard and one out, Conor Gillaspie hit a ground ball that skipped through Santana's legs. Brandon Belt, who drew a one-out walk off Boone Logan, scored and Brandon Crawford went to third.

Posey's hit scored Crawford and Gillaspie to make it 5-4.

The Indians lost for the sixth time in seven games as they concluded a 1-5 West Coast trip. The American League Central front-runners fell to 4-13 in interleague and are winless in six interleague series (see full recap).

Pitcher Montgomery hits 1st HR as Cubs beat Braves 
ATLANTA -- Mike Montgomery hit his first home run and allowed two hits and one run in six innings to lead the streaking Chicago Cubs to an 8-2 win over the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday.

Javier Baez hit a three-run homer in the eighth for Chicago, which stretched its season-best winning streak to six games since the All-Star break. The Cubs completed a three-game sweep of the Braves.

Kris Bryant, the Cubs' 2016 NL MVP, left the game with a sprained left little finger in the first inning. The team said X-rays were negative and his status is day to day.

Tommy La Stella, who replaced Bryant, also homered and Addison Russell drove in two runs with four hits, including two doubles (see full recap).