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Phillies legend still sees MVP potential in Maikel Franco

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Phillies legend still sees MVP potential in Maikel Franco

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt has arrived in Phillies camp for a weeklong stay as a guest instructor.

Schmidt always has interesting opinions. Two years ago, he proclaimed that third baseman Maikel Franco had MVP potential. Now, the clock is ticking on Franco, 25. If team officials don’t see his offensive talents come together this season, they could pursue Manny Machado as a free agent next offseason. In the interim, it would not be surprising to see Scott Kingery, the team’s second baseman of the future, make a stop at third sometime this season if the Phillies sought more offense consistency from the position. 

Despite leading the team in home runs (24) and RBIs (76) last season, Franco saw his OPS crash to .690, worst among 18 big-league third basemen with at least 400 plate appearances. But Schmidt still sees MVP potential in Franco and has faith it will all come together for him.

“Absolutely, it will,” Schmidt said. “But I think it’s going to take a little more willingness to — how do I say this? He has to find that ability to put the ball in play with two strikes more often, the ability to tone it down a little, maybe get a little Joey Votto, where, ‘I have a swing for two strikes to put the ball in play more often to keep the rally going, get that RBI.’ Those kind of things.

“I think it’s going to take a mental commitment by Maikel to make that happen. I’m not going to teach him, but he knows what I think because we talk a lot, but I’m not his day-to-day coach. I said, ‘You know, you’ve just got to hit your pitch when you swing at it and the only way to do that is to make your swing shorter and quicker and down to the ball.’ Maikel tends to want to launch a little bit, he gets anxious. But I say it every year, he could be an MVP as easily as anybody this year.”

It was interesting to hear Schmidt talk about how Franco’s desire to launch the ball can be a potential detriment. Launching the ball with a slight uppercut is actually something the Phillies’ analytically driven front office would like to see Franco do. General manager Matt Klentak said as much at the winter meetings when he noted Franco has high exit velocities — i.e., he hits the ball hard. In theory, keeping the ball in the air more should result in more extra-base hits and homers and fewer double-play balls for the slow-footed Franco.

This is all part of the new science of baseball and the Phillies, once as old school as they get, have embraced it.

It’s all new to Schmidt, whose swing, despite a downward plane, produced 548 homers.

“There’s a little bit of analytics stuff that they’re using now, they want the ball in the air more than on the ground, a slight uppercut,” Schmidt said. “I would dispute a few of those things, but a couple years from now I might be preaching it myself.”

Schmidt said that when he became a complete hitter, “I had more of a downward plane, down to the ball and a natural finish. Hit the equator of the ball and you’ll create a hard-hit ball and line drive. I do not believe in trying to create a ball that’s not on the ground. I do not, but that’s just me.

“I used to preach if you don’t hit a line drive, I want you to hit it on the ground because you’ll be more productive. I want to prevent the fly ball. Now, I wouldn’t tell Aaron Judge to prevent the fly ball. I may not tell that to Rhys Hoskins. But I surely want Cesar Hernandez not to hit fly balls.

“There are a lot of new theories these days that we wouldn’t have subscribed to back in the day. It could pan out to make us totally wrong.”

James Paxton trade affects Phillies in several ways

James Paxton trade affects Phillies in several ways

The Yankees are getting James Paxton from the Mariners, as first reported by Jon Heyman of Fancred. It's a move that has a few ramifications for the Phillies.

The Mariners are acquiring pitching prospect Justus Sheffield, OF Don Thompson-Williams and RHP Erik Swanson for Paxton, who is 30 years old and perpetually hurt but so good when he's on the mound. Paxton has a 3.42 career ERA with even better earned run estimators — he limits the homers, strikes out more than a batter per inning, all that good stuff.

The move potentially crosses Patrick Corbin off of the Yankees' list, ridding the marketplace of a top bidder for the top free-agent pitcher.

That's not a certainty, though. The Yankees could still look to sign Corbin to a lucrative deal, putting together a rotation of Corbin, Paxton, Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka.

Paxton was a name that teammate Jim Salisbury mentioned a few weeks ago in reference to the Phillies' search for a top-of-the-rotation lefty starter (see story). Robbie Ray was the other, and with the D-backs potentially exploring Paul Goldschmidt and Zack Greinke trades, them moving Ray is a good bet this offseason.

As for Corbin, it just doesn't seem the Phillies will be the team that outbids all others. As the top pitcher on the market, he's still in line for nine figures. While free agency has been reined in the last few years, there have still been eight starting pitchers since 2015 to get contracts of at least $100 million: Yu Darvish, David Price, Stephen Strasburg, Zack Greinke, Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, Johnny Cueto and Jordan Zimmermann.

Perhaps if the market comes back to the Phillies with Corbin as it did with Jake Arrieta, they'd pounce. But it's unlikely with every team always in the mix for pitching.

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Phillies face Braves in national spotlight to kick off 2019 season

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Phillies face Braves in national spotlight to kick off 2019 season

With the Phillies expected to spend this offseason, there will be more national attention on them next season than in nearly a decade.

And that’s reflected in the schedule. On March 31, 2019, it’s the Phillies and Braves on the first ESPN Sunday Night Baseball telecast of the season. The 7 p.m. game is their third of 162. 

It’s the Phillies’ first time leading off Sunday Night Baseball since 2009, when they also hosted the Braves. They lost 4-1 that night behind Brett Myers. Jumpin’ Jack Taschner was the first man out of the ‘pen. Time flies. 

The big question is who will be hitting in the heart of the Phillies’ order to provide run support for Aaron Nola that night. The Braves could also make a splash this offseason. They’re not ordinarily a big spender, but their young talent is the envy of much of the league. Atlanta could lose free agent Nick Markakis this offseason, which would thrill the Phils.

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