Phillies Prospect Maikel Franco Hits 30th Home Run on 21st Birthday

Phillies Prospect Maikel Franco Hits 30th Home Run on 21st Birthday

Cody Asche might be the “full package,” but Maikel Franco is the muscle. The Phillies’ other third-base prospect has been tearing it up in the minor leagues all summer, and on Monday he reached some big milestones for a baseball season at any level, coincidentally on the same day he reached a big milestone in life as well.

Franco bashed his 30th home run and 100th RBI of 2013 on the same day he was allowed to legally drink his first alcoholic beverage in the United States. No word on how the freshly-minted 21 year old celebrated his achievement on the diamond, but we have some suggestions.

At this rate Franco is going to breeze through the farm system after joining the organization as an undrafted free agent in 2010. He started this year at class-A Clearwater for the first time, but earned a promotion after just 65 games there, batting .299 with 16 home runs and 52 runs batted in. Amazingly he’s on almost exactly the same pace at double-A Reading, batting .328 with 14 homers and 48 RBI after 62 games.

The kid can flat out rake.

With Asche already doing a solid job over at the hot corner for the Phils, there is some question as to where both guys would play once Franco inevitably gets his call to the show. Recently the young Dominican began trying his hand over at first base, although that sounds like it’s still a work in progress.

[Reading manager Dusty] Wathan said the transition is going smoothly, even if there are going to be some inevitable hiccups.

For example, Franco failed to dig out a poor throw by shortstop Edgar Duran that resulted in an error in the second inning Monday.

"He's starting to get comfortable with first base," Wathan said. "He was upset with himself when he didn't pick that low throw. He expected to do that. He's been working hard at it. It's one of those things that will come with time."

Obviously there is a fairly large block at first base as well in the form of Ryan Howard and $25 million per year. The earliest the Phillies can get out from under his contract is 2016, and at least for the time being nobody in their right mind would trade for him – maybe as his deal is expiring, if he has anything left by then.

On the other hand, Howard hasn’t been completely healthy for a few years, so there may be some playing time for Franco over there after all. And the kid is probably a year away from being a viable option there anyway, although at the rate he’s crushing the minors it appears he might be ready ahead of schedule.

Either way, it’s good news for Phillies fans. Franco appears to have a bright future no matter where he plays in the field.

>> Franco, Dugan homer to rally Fightin Phils [Reading Eagle]

Another wild-card run? Flyers need it to start outdoors

Another wild-card run? Flyers need it to start outdoors

PITTSBURGH -- At this point, the Flyers are sick of talking about Saturday night's Stadium Series outdoor game against the Penguins at Heinz Field.

They just want to get it on and get it over with. Too much buildup.

“Yeah, kind of,” Simmonds said Friday. “For us, this is an extremely important game. We’ve got to get all the points we can possibly get going down the stretch if we want to make the playoffs.

“Obviously, it’s going to be an exciting time. A lot of guys have families here. But we have to stay focused on the goal.”

To say the Flyers need points right now is a huge understatement. They are five points behind the New York Islanders for the Eastern Conference's final wild-card spot.

That’s the farthest they have been behind since occupying the wild card on Dec. 4. When the Flyers won their 10th consecutive game Dec. 14, they were 14 points ahead of the Islanders.

That’s a 19-point swing in the standings since then.

“So, we just have to find a way to get two points and get some wins in a row here,” Jakub Voracek said. “Every game against Pittsburgh is special. Playing an outdoor game -- I don't know how many people are going to be here -- but it's going to be a great experience.

“For us, every game is a huge game. So, if you play Pittsburgh or Colorado, it doesn't matter. You have to get two points.”

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said Friday night he believes his team can still make a playoff run and salvage a wild card.

The thing is, when the Flyers made their second-half push last season, it actually began in mid-February -- earlier than now.

A couple players got hot, as did Michal Neuvirth and then Steve Mason, and you could see momentum building in the team over weeks.

That hasn’t been the case here. It’s almost March and the Flyers are floundering, no one is scoring and they are losing games despite playing pretty good hockey with no answer on how to turn things around without a major scoring increase across the board.

“It's a different season,” Voracek said of the comparison. “Different teams. You could use it as an advantage. … We have to play our hockey. The last two games, we went 1-1, but we played pretty good. We have to be ready [Saturday].”

Hextall said what happens this weekend and Tuesday against Colorado will have a trickle-down effect on what he does Wednesday at the NHL trade deadline (see story).

“We’ve played well enough at times this year that we can mount a run,” Hextall said. “I have no doubt in my mind. We’ve been playing pretty good the last eight, nine games. Except for the Edmonton game.

“But we haven’t gotten results. We need to get results. It’s not about moral victories or playing good against Washington. That’s fine and dandy, but not good enough. We have to win games.”

It starts tonight.

The Sixers are the perfect distraction from the Sixers

The Sixers are the perfect distraction from the Sixers

There's your Philadelphia 76ers season in a nutshell, huh? Nerlens Noel gets traded for an all-lemon pack of Starbursts, Ben Simmons' right foot is still apparently stuck in a beartrap, Joel Embiid can't get himself dismissed from the nurse's office, and Jahlil Okafor is forced back into +1 status after everyone else passed on going to the concert with Bryan Colangelo -- and the Ballers still go out and beat one of the best teams in the East in their first game back from the All-Star break. Nearly everything about the Sixers is depressing right now, except for the team themselves. They're cool. 

Kudos to Brett Brown, man. The team is playing with such fluency and energy right now that it can withstand some losses in personnel without the drop-off being particularly dramatic -- at least for the moment. Replacing Embiid and Noel with Okafor and Holmes for as long as we'll have to do it will catch up with us in time, but for now, all you can do is marvel at the pace, cohesion and (with some mildly glaring moments of exception) discipline that Brown has the guys playing at the moment. I doubt there are five coaches in the league having a more impressive season than him right now. 

But the players were pretty good in this one, too. Dario Saric had 20-11-4 in his first start in three weeks, continuing his unlikely Rookie of the Year surge with his third-straight double-double and fourth game of 20-plus in his last six games. The All-Star Break hasn't cooled Robert Covington's hot hand, as the shooter went 5-9 from deep last night and is now 17-31 on threes over his last four games, also posting a 20-10 night with his 25 points and 11 boards. (Also three assists and four steals, whatever.) Richaun Holmes dunked over some people and reminded a handful of fans why they've gotten way too excited about him at various points earlier in the year. Good times were had by all. 

Games like last night's also just remind you how marginal the difference between winning and losing is. As they've been wont to do forever, the Sixers blew their considerable lead to the Wizards late in this one, which would've undoubtedly resulted in a tragic loss in years past. But these days, the leads are a little bigger going into the Sixers' fourth-quarter tailspins, and their defense is just a little tighter on critical possessions, and that's the difference between losing on a Bradley Beal buzzer-beater and hitting just enough free throws to squeak out a mildly secure 120-112 victory. 

Anyway, after an impossibly discouraging week of Sixers happenings, it turns out some actual Sixers basketball is just what we needed. Hopefully their level of play will continue to get better as news of their off-court developments invariably keeps getting worse .