WASHINGTON — When J.P. Crawford went down with a broken hand on Tuesday, it ostensibly meant more playing time for Maikel Franco after he’d played himself out of the Phillies' regular third baseman’s job.
But Franco did not start Friday night’s game against the Nationals. Utility man Jesmuel Valentin got the nod at third.
Manager Gabe Kapler talked up Valentin saying, “There’s a lot of people in our organization who believe Val is a prospect and by prospect I mean a guy who can contribute on the major-league level either as a utility guy or a guy who plays a little more regularly, so we want to see that.”
But Kapler made it clear that Franco needs to make some “fixes.” In particular, Kapler wants to see the slow-footed Franco drive the ball in the air more and get on base more. Phillies management has made these observations before. Many times. Franco’s inability to improve in these areas is the reason he lost playing time to Crawford in the first place. It was the reason the Phillies seem to be phasing him out their plans, the reason they are likely to seek a trade-deadline upgrade at third base — if they can stay in contention.
Kapler said he wasn’t sending any messages in holding Franco out of Friday night’s lineup.
“The only message tonight is let’s win the baseball game and give Maikel a chance to work on his craft,” Kapler said.
Indeed, Franco spent significant time before the game working in the cage with hitting coaches John Mallee and Pedro Guerrero.
“The profile on Maikel is who he is — a guy who hits home runs and sometimes in bunches and has a lot of power, hasn’t been able to consistently get on base over a long period of time and that feels like what makes a major-league third baseman is a guy who gets on base and hits homers and plays good D,” Kapler said. “So if you have all three, you’re a regular at third base for a really long time. If you have two of the three, it’s a challenge. And right now, Maikel is dealing with working on his D and making that better and he’s also dealing with adding one more offensive tool to the third-base mix. The home runs are going to be there. If you gave him 500 plate appearances, he’s going to hit you 25 homers. But that doesn’t make a third baseman at the major-league level long term, just that in isolation.”
Entering Friday, Franco had just a .284 on-base percentage and he had hit the ball on the ground 52 percent of the time, the 13th-highest rate among 162 qualifying hitters in the majors, according to FanGraphs data.
Kapler said he remains confident that Franco can make the fixes he’s looking for.
“He’s a young player. He’s 25. He’s still developing,” Kapler said. “I still have a ton of confidence that he can put it all together and we can roll with Maikel Franco, and we’re doing everything in our power to access that player. He’s very talented. That confidence has not let up at all.”