CLEARWATER, Fla. — Mike Schmidt believes the Phillies have a future National League MVP on their hands in 23-year-old third baseman Maikel Franco.
“I’m a big fan, a very big fan,” Schmidt said Wednesday. “I think he’s got everything that a young man like that needs to become a great player.
“He’ll be a league MVP at some point. Hopefully, it’s sooner rather than later. But he has that kind of talent.”
Schmidt, a part-time television broadcaster with the Phillies and a guest instructor in spring training, won three National League MVP awards during his Hall of Fame career as the Phillies’ third baseman. In Franco, he sees the big, middle-of-the-order, homegrown, right-handed bat that the team has been trying to develop since, well, maybe since Schmidt himself.
“I think he’s a 30-100 guy,” Schmidt said, referring to home runs and RBIs. “If you multiply out his numbers he was that last year.”
Franco hit .280 with 14 homers and 50 RBIs in 80 games last season. Thirty-seven of his 85 hits were for extra bases. He had played his way into consideration for the NL Rookie of the Year award when he went down with a broken wrist on Aug. 11 and missed the next six weeks. At the time of the injury, sustained when he was hit by a pitch from Arizona’s Jeremy Hellickson, who is now a teammate, Franco was leading all major-league rookies in slugging (.490) and OPS (.828.)
By the way, Franco has no hard feelings for Hellickson.
“It was a part of the game,” he said. “I am looking forward to being good friends with him.”
Earlier in camp, Hellickson said he was looking forward to having Franco’s bat and glove behind him.
Schmidt, who won 10 Gold Gloves, praised Franco’s defense.
“He has some things I never had,” Schmidt said. “He’s probably a better defensive player than I was. He does make some flamboyant plays. He’s very good charging the ball and bare-handing it. He has an unusual arm. He throws three-quarters to side-arm, but his ball carries and it’s strong.”
Franco did make some sloppy errors last year and manager Pete Mackanin cited metrics that rated Franco as a below-average defender last year. Scouts who have watched Franco and seen his soft hands and strong arm believe he has the capability to be a Gold Glover someday.
So what has to happen for Franco to one day win the MVP award that Schmidt predicted and become that Gold Glover?
Schmidt offered several areas of focus.
First, he said Franco should approach the season in small chunks.
“I broke the season down into months,” Schmidt said. “It’s a good way to stay patient and handle a long season. Get your five homers a month and your 15 or so RBIs and you’ve got yourself 30 and 100.
“If you keep that perspective, there’s no reason to panic if you’re 0 for 8 or 1 for 15 or haven’t hit a home run in 10 games. You have to keep in perspective how long the season is.”
To string together six good months, a player has to stay healthy.
“Time remains the big test in baseball,” Schmidt said. “You need a little luck. I think I was only on the disabled list twice in 17 years, so that’s going to be a big key for him and it starts with attention to his physical conditioning, things like stretching and strength.
“To stay injury-free, you have to stretch every day. You can’t take that part of the day lightly. You have to be mindful of your physical condition on a daily basis so you can get those 150 games. If you go on the DL, the season shortens up on you.”
In stressing how important it is for Franco to stay focused on defense and pay attention to conditioning and injury prevention on a daily basis, Schmidt used an interesting word.
“The only thing Maikel might do is he might get a little lazy here and there, just in general,” Schmidt said. “For him, it’s good to have a (Andres) Blanco around to maybe kick him in the butt.”
With time and maturity, “that polish will come” to Franco’s game," Schmidt said. “He’s just got a whole lot going for him, all the qualities of a future MVP.”