Notable Quotables: Philadelphia Phillies’ MiLBY Winner Maikel Franco

By Ashley Marshall

Staff members at MiLB.com’s offices voted Maikel Franco as their breakout prospect of the year this season in the 2013 MiLBY Awards.

In putting together my feature on Franco, I spoke to a number of people about the third base prospect — Chris Truby (Franco’s manager with the Clearwater Threshers), Joe Jordan (Phillies director of player development), Frank Cacciatore (Reading Fightin Phils hitting coach) and Jesse Biddle (Franco’s long-time teammate throughout the system).

I couldn’t fit all of their great quotes into the original story, so I decided to clear out my notebook and share their thoughts and observations here.

Chris Truby, Clearwater manager

Truby on Franco’s defense: “The kid is a very hard worker and excellent defensively. He takes a lot of pride in his defense. He’s one of those guys that was not under the radar in our organization, but he made huge strides in both parts of his game. He’s a worker. He realizes there are certain aspects he has to work on and he wants to put in the time and get the work done. He realizes how close he is, and that has given him the driving force. I think he’s a very impressive kid to be around. … Everybody looks to the bat, but he is more than the bat. The man can play third base. He can field slow rollers and bunts.”

Truby on Franco’s approach at the plate: “He’s able to make adjustments. He’s not just a free swinger and he doesn’t strike out a lot for a power guy. He recognizes how different pitchers and different teams pitch to him and he makes that adjustment quickly for a young guy, sometimes even within the same at-bat. A pitcher makes him look silly with a first-pitch breaking ball and tries it again and he hammers it. [His swing] is different. It’s not the fundamentally sound, prototypical swing that you would design, but he gets the bat head going and he gets the bat through the zone. He’s an aggressive swinger.”

Truby on Franco’s development: “He just needs to be in situations and recognize different situations in the game. It’s just experience. If he can maintain the same approach and get another year under his belt, he can have big-time progress for sure. He is willing to play and willing to listen and it won’t take him much time to learn. I think he can be a middle-of-the-lineup guy that can drive in runs at the Major league level. He has power not just to the pull field but to all over the field. He has tremendous hands and a cannon for an arm.”

Truby on Franco’s mix of maturity and skill: “It is rare. It’s hard to find and that’s why it’s special and it’s why he has the chance to be a special player. Since we signed him, he could always hit. Now that his defense is coming into play, the sky is the limit.”

Joe Jordan, Phillies director of player development

Jordan on Franco’s growth since last summer: “We kinda saw this starting last year ’round about July or August when his numbers started coming together. We were hoping he would build on that, but what he did was tremendous in my opinion. It far exceeded what I hoped he would do. … Young players, they get dealt so much failure in this game. He went really two-and-a-half months last year when he was hitting about .220 in the Sally League and we just saw a kid that never hung his head. He kept working, kept working and all of a sudden his strikeouts went down and he quit chasing and expanding the strike zone, and I think he hit .320 in July and almost .360 in August.

“He never gave in, and for a 19-year-old at the time, that’s tremendous. … He just turned a corner and got things going and finished at .285 I think with about 14 homers and he drove in 85 runs. He just didn’t surrender. We talked about it all winter, how excited we were about what he had done and there’s something good inside this kid.”

Jordan on Franco’s adjustments at the dish: “It was just more him making the adjustment to start using the whole field to hit. He was set to pull the ball, and it’s a big ballpark in Lakewood. He didn’t want to use the middle of the field because it’s Death Valley out there. He just was trying to be a pull power hitter and they were having an easy job pitching to him. His two-strike approach really got better and he just started talking his base hits up the middle and hitting the opposite-field gap.”

Jordan on the intangible benefits of Franco learning English:  “He’s a very quiet kid, but he’s confident. What I’ve seen is that he’s a confident young man and his English has gotten a lot better. With all our Latin players, as that progression happens and they become more comfortable with the English language, I think that they exude confidence. Their self esteem is so, so good and they’re proud of themselves, which they should be.”

Jordan on Franco’s skill set: “He is not a runner. He’s a well below-average runner as far as his foot speed, but he has good first-step quickness and very good instincts at third base. His glove is going to be at least a plus glove guy in the Major Leagues. He really catches the ball very well. His arm is easy above average and he’ll show you a 70 arm at times if he has to. The bat and power are going to be the carrying tools. If he’s a .270 hitter in the big leagues, he’ll hit 25-plus home runs and drive in 80 to 100. If he makes that much contact and is that kind of hitter, which is an average 50 or 55 hitter in the big leagues, he’ll be an above-average power guy with a lot of run production. I think that’s realistic.

“He’s a good hitter and I think this year in Double-A the thing that I saw when guys tried to double up breaking pitches on him if they threw a pitch he swung through and if they went back to it, he made the adjustment the next pitch. That’s what you look for — guys who can make an adjustment inside an at-bat.”

Jordan on Franco’s progression: “This guy just turned 21, and the progression I’ve seen in the short time that I’ve been with the organization, I’ve seen the same type of things with some very good Major Leaguer hitters through the years, so I’m excited. I remember when I first went over to Florida. I had been with the Expos back in the early 2000s, and when I moved over to the Marlins, Miguel Cabrera was there as a 19-year-old. The next year as a 20-year-old he debuted in the big leagues. [Franco] has the stuff that those good offensive players have in the big leagues.

“I think this kid is smart. He’s very smart on the baseball field. He’s making these progressions at a very young age. Good stuff doesn’t bother him, and he can hit an above-average fastball or the breaking ball. He has some intelligence in the batter’s box and he can make the adjustments and that’s what good hitters do.”

Jordan on Franco’s next step: “The thing that I tell these players — and when we talk about it as a staff — is the further you go up the Minor Leagues, the smaller the strike zone is. In the Majors it’s even smaller. It’s harder sometimes to evaluate good hitters in A-ball because the zone may be 44 inches sometimes. I think the thing that he did when he got to Double-A is he shrunk the zone. … If you look at his strikeouts and his production, he doesn’t take a back seat to very many guys.”

Jordan on Franco’s agility: “I think what he needs to do — and it’s very important and something he knows — is that he has to continue working on his agility and his quickness, his first step quickness. It will be a continuing year-to-year thing he has to stay on top of. He’s not fleet of foot, he’s not a good runner — he’s smart on the base paths — but really focus on his agility. You don’t have to be fast to play third base, but you have to be quick and you have to be able to react.

“He’s been on an agility program all year in Clearwater and all year in Reading. Our strength and agility guys can tailor certain programs to different guys. We have the agility program in place for him, but it’s lateral quickness. You set up cones and work him left to right and time it so we can give him some qualified measurements to he can see where he’s at and whether he’s making progress one week, two weeks later.”

Frank Cacciatore, Reading hitting coach

Cacciatore on Franco’s mindset at the plate when he first met him in 2010: “He was very aggressive and he still is. He took his swings and he wasn’t going to get cheated, but there wasn’t a hitting plan. He was looking for the first thing he could reach and he’d try to hit it.”

Cacciatore on Franco’s approach today: “He’s an aggressive hitter and he’s aggressive to the fastball. But the thing about him is that he’s making good adjustments to the breaking pitch. They have to be able to get set and hit the fastball first, and he’s able to do that and do that well. Now he’s also able to use all fields. Everybody’s expectations are kind of high now. Does that mean his development will continue on that uphill and that his development will be as quick up the levels? I don’t know because he’ll probably start next year at Triple-A, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes the adjustment up there just as easily as he did down here.”

Cacciatore on Franco’s strikeout numbers: “There’s always a trade off. If a guy’s going to be an RBI guy and hit the ball out of the park, he’ll have a few more strikeouts. You always want to cut them down where possible, but the thing that we have to realize is that he’s only 21 and that we’ll have to take those lumps as he develops. His plate discipline has to be improved and he has to stay smaller in the zone, but these are really fine points. By the time he’s 23 or 24, that will get a lot better as he gets more at-bats under his belt.”

Cacciatore on Franco’s upside: “He’s special. I’ve seen this kind of thing before when Domonic Brown came through here in Reading and just killed the league — he dominated the league. I don’t think Domonic was very much older than Maikel, and in many respects they’re kinda similar in terms of their demeanor and work ethic.”

Jesse Biddle

Biddle on what Franco means to the team: “It was a lot of fun to watch. He was a little sparkplug for the team. He came in, he was the youngest guy on the team and he just has no fear when he’s at bat. He’s not afraid of striking out and he’s not scared making a mistake. He just plays the game as hard as he can, and he just lets his natural talent take over, and he has a lot of natural talent.”

Biddle on striking Franco out on three pitches at the Futures Game: “I saw a couple things that I could use. My strength is my curveball and that’s what I went to against him. I went with my strength against what is potentially his weakness. I’ve seen him get fooled before, but it’s rare he gets fooled a couple times in a row. I might have won one on him, but if he faces me again it might be a different story.”

Biddle on Franco’s all-round game: “He made a lot of very impressive plays. He has a great arm. If he bobbles a ball at third base, he has the arm to make up for it. He has great instinct and he fields the bunt unbelievably well. He makes a lot of barehanded plays and he makes a lot of plays down the line. … He obviously brings the juice in the lineup, but the amount of energy he supplies on the field and in the clubhouse is very similar. It’s a lot of fun to be around.

“His game speaks for itself. I think he just needs to keep his nose down and never get too big of a head, but that’s not the kind of kid he is. He had a lot of success this year, but he was still the hard-working, humble kid I met in 2010. People will say his defense needs to catch up to his offense, but it will. He has the hands and the reaction over at third base and he has the arm, obviously. He’s a lot of fun to watch all-around. His whole game has come so far and I just can’t wait to see where it’s going to go. I really can’t say it enough. He really is a great guy. He’s one of my closest friends and I really just root for the guy.”

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