Mike Schmidt sees MVP potential in Maikel Franco


Mike Schmidt sees MVP potential in Maikel Franco

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.”

Joe Girardi doesn't see penalty for Astros players as a deterrent

Joe Girardi doesn't see penalty for Astros players as a deterrent

The calls for Astros players to get suspended have gotten louder and louder as players have descended upon Florida and Arizona for spring training this past week. From Cody Bellinger to Mike Trout to Trevor Bauer to Nick Markakis and everywhere in between, players have made clear how angry they are about Houston's cheating scandal. 

It's going to take a long time for Astros players to gain back the respect of their peers.

It's not some easy fix, though. Astros players were granted immunity from discipline in order for their cooperation in MLB's investigation. MLB cannot, after the fact, revoke that immunity and decide to suspend players knowing what it now knows. That would never fly, and it shouldn't. Whether immunity should have been granted in the first place is the big question, but that point has passed.

Joe Girardi was asked on ESPN's Golic and Wingo Show Wednesday whether he thought MLB's punishment was sufficient.

The Phillies' first-year skipper doesn't think the current punishment serves as much of a deterrent.

"There are some people that lost their jobs that really were the people that had to pay for it, but there were a lot more people involved," Girardi said. "The financial gain for the players is substantial if they have big seasons because of this, so if there's no punishment for them, I'm not sure that it stops. I'm really not sure. Because the financial gain, similar to the steroid era, is very similar. If you know it's coming and you have a big year and you're a free agent, there's a lot (of money) to be made there and players want to take care of their families.

"I'm not exactly sure what the right answer is, but I don't know how much of a deterrent it is for players right now. There's not a huge deterrent for the players and I think there has to be to make sure that it stops."

People made fun of commissioner Rob Manfred for saying this but it should be acknowledged that the public ridicule the Astros are feeling right now will actually serve as some sort of deterrent. That doesn't mean MLB made the right call, that their decision-making process has been sound or that Manfred has done himself any favors publicly. But the disrespect factor around the league and around the country is real. Guys like Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, George Springer, even a Justin Verlander — will they ever again command the respect they did before this? This is a permanent stain.

MLB recognized how difficult an investigation would have been without cooperation from key figures and went the route of immunity. It's a decision that will be questioned for years.

"If you're not in the clubhouse and you don't admit yourself that you did it, how do you take the word from another player that he was doing it? That's the hard part," Girardi said. "Like, if you get caught with something on your body, that to me definitely should be a suspension and a huge fine. But to say that someone was using it, it's his word against his word, that's pretty tough to penalize a player."

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A small step in Phillies camp for pitching prospect Spencer Howard

A small step in Phillies camp for pitching prospect Spencer Howard

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Spencer Howard, the Phillies' top pitching prospect, returned to a bullpen mound Wednesday and threw 27 pitches.

Ordinarily, a bullpen session in spring training is not news, but Howard had temporarily stopped his bullpen work after sustaining a minor knee injury — manager Joe Girardi called it a "tweak" — 10 days earlier.

Howard threw all of his pitches during the bullpen session as a gaggle of fans watched at Carpenter Complex.

"I only saw two pitches," said Girardi, who was busy bouncing around four fields. "But he felt great. That's the important thing."

Girardi said there was no timetable for when Howard would pitch in a Grapefruit League game. The Phillies are on record as saying they will take things slowly with Howard in the early part of the season. The 23-year-old right-hander is on an innings/workload limit this season and the Phillies would like to get a good chunk of those innings in the big leagues.

"Spencer has an innings limit so we have to think about this because we believe at some point he's going to play a role for us," Girardi said earlier in camp. "We can't go wear him out by June so we have to think about that. We're not going to waste a lot of innings in spring training."

It's possible that the Phillies could hold Howard back in extended spring training in the month of April so they can maximize his innings later in the season.

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