Phillies

As September spawns, thoughts on Maikel Franco and Spencer Howard, two Phillies at opposite ends

As September spawns, thoughts on Maikel Franco and Spencer Howard, two Phillies at opposite ends

CINCINNATI — Phillies officials have spent time over the last few days debating the immediate future of two players.

Maikel Franco and Spencer Howard.

Do they come up and lend a hand in the September playoff chase or not?

Howard first.

The right-hander has emerged as the organization's top pitching prospect this season. He's 23, strong-bodied, and has a full arsenal of pitches. Those with educated baseball eyes who've seen him pitch this season say, with the right handling, he could survive in the majors right now and help the Phillies down the stretch. Those charged with overseeing his development and ensuring that he has a long and meaningful impact on the starting rotation for years to come point to the fact that he's never thrown a pitch above Double A, and that he's never pitched with a big-league baseball as reasons to be conservative.

For now, Howard will start for Double A Reading in Game 1 of the Eastern League playoffs on Wednesday night.

It seems unlikely that he will be summoned to Philadelphia after that, but there could be some wiggle room.

The Phillies added pitcher Nick Pivetta and utility man Jose Pirela from Triple A before Tuesday night's game in Cincinnati.

At the time, manager Gabe Kapler was asked if he expected more additions beyond Franco, who is expected to be with the club on Thursday.

"No," Kapler responded, "but I would not rule it out."

In other words, depending on how Howard gets through Wednesday night's playoff start, and depending on where the Phillies are in their own playoff race and what their needs are … Spencer Howard is a maybe.

• • •

Rosters expanded on Sunday, but Franco was not eligible to join the big-league club at that point because 10 days had not passed since he was sent to the minors for the second time in a month last week.

Once upon a time, Franco was a hot prospect, just like Howard is now, a middle-of-order bat with a strong arm at third base.

Franco was a regular in the majors by the time he was 22. He had three seasons in which he hit 20 or more homers and last season, despite losing his job then regaining it, led the team in batting average (.270), was second in OPS (.780) and third in homers (22).

None of this secured his future in the organization. The Phillies unsuccessfully pursued Manny Machado in July 2018 and again last winter. Franco reported to spring training where he was told he had to win his third base job. He opened this season with a bang — seven homers, 25 RBIs and a .858 OPS in the first 30 games, but struggled and hit .217 with a .626 OPS in his next 246 plate appearances. He was sent to the minors in early August as the Phils began using Scott Kingery at third base.

Sending Franco to the minors was a clear indication that his time in the organization had finally come to an end.

He will be traded in the coming weeks or months, or simply not be offered a contract and let go. Maybe his next team can find the key to unlocking his potential, as club president Andy MacPhail suggested 11 months ago. Maybe Franco, one of the best, most upbeat and team-first people to come through the Phillies' clubhouse in recent years, will rediscover his confidence with another team and enjoy a career breakthrough in his late 20s, like Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista once did.

Sources say that over the last week there was talk of cutting Franco loose now — that would have given him time to hook on with a new team — but the Phillies decided his bat could be valuable off the bench over the final weeks of the season.

So Franco, who recently turned 27, returns Thursday to play out his time with the Phillies.

Maybe he can help them win a game or two before he moves on to a new club, a reality that's been a long time coming.

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Bryce Harper's headband collection continues to grow with latest design for his son

Bryce Harper's headband collection continues to grow with latest design for his son

Since his time in Philadelphia began just shy of one year ago, Bryce Harper has embraced the city with open arms from the moment he arrived.

One thing that Harper is known for, outside of crushing dingers and having a monster arm in right field, is his vast headband collection that was seen throughout the season.

It’s something that he carried over from his time in Washington, but let’s be honest — the ones that he has worn here have been way cooler.

Who can forget the iconic Phanatic one, that had just about every fan running to the closest team store or taking to their phones to place an order for their own.


(Image credit: USA Today Images)

Harper truly took a liking to the Phanatic (who wouldn’t?) and even embraced the mascot via socks and cleats. Notice the details in the laces? They’re fuzzy. Seriously, who designed those? Give that person a raise.



(Credit for Images: USA Today Images)

And let’s just hope the whole Phanatic ordeal gets settled before the start of the season, so Harper can continue repping his biggest supporter.

Let’s get back to the main reason for this post — headbands.

There were many other ways he sported his new team last season, including a headband in army green, one to match the Phillies’ home uniforms and even one with stars.



(Credit for images: USA Today Images)

His latest one though, looks to be a custom design from JunkBrands.com. It’s personalized with Harper’s number but more importantly, his son’s name, Krew.


(Image credit: John Clark/Twitter)

We’re not sure how Harper is going to top last year’s lineup … but he’s off to a pretty great start.

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Realmuto feeling ‘blessed’ as he heads into arbitration showdown with Phillies

2020 Phillies spring training pitching probables: Battle for 5th starter begins this weekend

2020 Phillies spring training pitching probables: Battle for 5th starter begins this weekend

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The battle for the Phillies' fifth starter's job will get off to a quick start.

Manager Joe Girardi on Tuesday announced his starting pitchers for the first three Grapefruit League games.

Nick Pivetta will start the exhibition opener against the Detroit Tigers on Saturday in Lakeland.

Presumed opening day starter Aaron Nola will get the ball Sunday against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Clearwater.

Vince Velasquez will get the nod Monday against the Baltimore Orioles in Clearwater.

Girardi was not ready to announce any other pitching plans.

On paper, the top four spots in the Phillies' rotation appear set with Nola, Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta and Zach Eflin. Pivetta and Velasquez will vie for the fifth spot with pitchers like Ranger Suarez, Cole Irvin and prospect Damon Jones also getting a look.

"I think it's important that all these guys that are competing for the last spots get a ton of looks and we can afford to do that," Girardi said. "We have a number of games, we have split-squad games. We'll look at people. I think it's important that we do that, that we're fair to everyone because it's fair to the team that way.

"As we go forward, each start gets a little bit more important, but I think it's not fair to evaluate start 1 and start 2. That's the buildup stage."

Girardi, his staff and the front office will use a couple of factors in picking a fifth starter. Obviously, there is performance in spring training. In addition, Girardi said, the team will consider who might profile best in the bullpen. Suarez opened eyes in the bullpen last year. Velasquez and Pivetta both spent time in the rotation and the bullpen last year. One of them appears to be ticketed for the rotation and the other for the bullpen.

"The bottom line is we're going to want our 13 best pitchers to go with us and we have to kind of put that puzzle together," Girardi said.

New pitching coach Bryan Price has mentioned that a starter transitioning to the bullpen can benefit from some adjustment time because relieving is "a learned craft." In a perfect world, the Phils will identify who starts and who goes to the bullpen before the Grapefruit League schedule ends so the adjustment period can commence.

"We would like to do that," Girardi said. "That doesn't mean it will happen. If they make our job really difficult, it might get drawn out longer. And you can make it difficult two different ways — they're all pitching good or they're all scuffling."

Girardi hopes they're all pitching good.

In Price's view, a starter transitioning to the bullpen should not view the move as a slight.

"There's an emotional hurdle of not starting that has to be cleared," he said. "Some guys look at it as a demotion when it can really be something that stimulates a career and greatly impact the ballclub."

No team gets through a season with five starters. So today's reliever might be tomorrow's starter. 

"Just because we pick a fifth starter at the end of March doesn't mean things couldn't change," Girardi said.

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