Maikel Franco bashed his 29th homer Saturday afternoon, a day that was noteworthy because the Phillies' top prospect played a new position. He moved across the diamond to start at first base for the first time in his career.
"It's just to give him another position he could go to," assistant general manager Benny Looper said. "His bat is coming quick, it looks like. He's probably going to be limited to third or first. He's never played first so we wanted to break him in and see if that's a possibility."
Looper expects Franco to man first base for the remainder of double-A Reading's season. He started there again Saturday night in the second game of a doubleheader. The Fightin Phils have nine games to play after Saturday.
Some scouts are skeptical that Franco can stick at third base because of his slow foot speed. Others cite his sure hands and strong arm as reasons why he can do it. The Phillies believe third base is his future.
Franco turns 21 on Monday. He was hitting .314 with a .913 OPS before Saturday.
"It's surprising how good he is [at third] because he can't run," Looper said. "But there have been a lot of third basemen who could not run. Brooks Robinson was one.
"He has a great arm. His range is less than adequate. He's pretty good on slow rollers. I think he could be a major-league third basemen."
So why first base and why now? Looper said the organization's infield coordinator, Doug Mansolino, has worked with Franco for the last few weeks at first. They feel this is a low-pressure situation for a tryout.
The team had hoped to send Franco to the Arizona Fall League, but they were not granted permission by Franco's winter ball team in the Dominican Republic. Looper said the Phillies were promised that Franco would see regular playing time in the Dominican. The Phillies, though, have less influence there than in the AFL.
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