ALLENTOWN, Pa. — The Philadelphia Phillies believe they have a long-term solution at third base, a revolving-door position filled mostly by players from outside their farm system ever since Scott Rolen ascended to baseball heaven — that’s St. Louis in case you’ve forgotten — in the middle of the 2002 season.
What the Phillies don’t know and won’t know for a while is the name attached to that solution.
Maybe it’s Cody Asche. It’s his job to lose and some would argue he’s doing a pretty good job of losing it. To be fair, he has a history of being a slow starter and he deserves a lot more than three weeks to prove himself.
Maybe it’s Freddy Galvis. Give him a glove and he can play any position, but he’s still considered more of a middle infielder and the bat he carries to home plate remains shaped like a question mark.
Maybe it’s Cesar Hernandez. The Phillies sent him from the big leagues to double-A Reading earlier this month because they wanted him to play third base, but he has also played some shortstop and is viewed more as a super utility guy.
More than likely the solution remains Maikel Franco, a 21-year-old native of the Dominican Republic who has the rare potential to hit for power and average. So far, in his first exposure to triple-A pitching with the Phillies’ Lehigh Valley affiliate, he has done neither.
Franco entered Lehigh Valley’s rain-delayed game Tuesday night against Norfolk with a .143 batting average. Through 17 games, he was 9-for-63 with two doubles, no home runs and four RBIs. Bad weather, poor strike zone discipline and tough luck were all offered as reasons for Franco’s difficult start at the highest level in the minor leagues.
“It’s tough because the weather is 95, 98 most of the time (in the Dominican Republic) and you come here and it’s 35, 45, that’s a little bit hard,” Franco said. “But you can’t think about it. You have to go play baseball and do what you do.”
IronPigs hitting instructor Sal Rende believes the weather has been Franco’s greatest detriment.
“It just seems like young Latin players, they have a tough time the first part of the year,” he said. “The guys who have never really played through it, it’s just different. They just have to plug through the first two or three weeks.”
The entire IronPigs coaching staff agrees that the first 17 games were proof that Franco wasn’t ready to make the jump from a star slugger at single-A Clearwater and double-A Reading last season to the big leagues this season. That thought crossed a few people’s minds when Franco was invited to big-league spring training, but Asche had the upper hand in that competition from the start and opened the season as the team’s third baseman.
“He’s not ready, obviously,” Rende said. “He’s not performing at the level where he even needs to be considered right now. He just has to get back to doing what he does and whatever happens after that happens.”
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