When the Phillies reported to spring training a little over three months ago, the depth at third base was minimal.
There was incumbent Cody Asche, who played 50 games as a rookie at the position last year. There was Kevin Frandsen, who was never known for his defense, which was one of the reasons he wasn't even in camp any more before camp broke in March. There was defensive wiz Freddy Galvis, a nice option but not really viewed as a starting candidate at third. And then there was Maikel Franco, the right-handed slugging top prospect who hit 36 home runs between Class A Clearwater and Double-A Reading last season.
Franco began this season at Triple-A. But when Asche was placed on the DL this weekend, Franco, who turns 22 in August, was not summoned to the big leagues, even if management did admit they gave it thought.
"He’s just not playing good enough baseball yet, he’s not really ready to be a big leaguer yet," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said prior to Tuesday's game at Citizens Bank Park. "There’s no reason to bring Franco unless he’s ready to be a big leaguer as far as I’m concerned. If he puts together a few days. Offensively, he’s made some adjustments, he’s made some improvements better than in the earlier part of the season, but he’s not really going on all cylinders now. We’re still contemplating it. We’ll see how it goes."
Before Amaro spoke during pregame batting practice, manager Ryne Sandberg said the team wanted to summon Franco only when he was in a groove offensively. When it comes down to it, Franco may just have gotten sick at a poor time: he was out of the lineup for back-to-back games this weekend while battling an upper respiratory illness.
Franco returned to the IronPigs lineup yesterday, when he went 0-for-3 with a walk.
"He played like he was sick yesterday," Amaro said.
But Franco, rated the No.17 prospect in baseball by Baseball America this winter, has come on at the plate this month after an awful April.
Franco hit .172 with a .487 OPS in the season's first month. He had 5 extra bases hits - one home run - in 23 games in April.
In May, Franco has hit .291 with an .849 OPS, 3 home runs and 6 doubles in 22 games.
But if Franco is deemed unready at the moment, and Asche returns from his hamstring injury in two weeks, as expected, is there even a window where Franco could get to the big leagues in the next week or so?
"He could. It’s possible," Amaro said. "Just to get him hot at the point where he’s confident and feeling good about his swing and being in a good rhythm. There’s no reason to bring a guy up who’s not swinging the bat very well."
Entering play Tuesday, Phillies third baseman ranked 24th in baseball in OPS (.636), 25th in extra-base hits (12) and 27th in both batting (.207) and total bases (57). Cesar Hernandez, who wasn't even playing the position when spring training began, started at third for the fifth straight game on Tuesday.