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May 20, 2016

Mackanin: Struggling Franco 'still has things to learn' as a hitter

The two teams that are about to square off at Citizens Bank Park feature the two least productive offenses in baseball.

One of those teams, the Atlanta Braves, has scored 128 runs in 40 games, 100 fewer runs than the St. Louis Cardinals and 112 fewer runs than the Boston Red Sox. The other, the Philadelphia Phillies, has scored three runs or fewer in 24 of their 41 games and is averaging a robust 3.32 runs per game.

The difference between the two teams is the Phillies have had one of the best pitching staffs in the National League. The Braves have not.

But what if that wasn’t the case, and the Phillies were the ones sporting a 10-30 record entering the weekend and weren’t the team that’s currently seven games over .500?

If that was the case, and the offense was regularly costing them wins, people would probably be well aware that Maikel Franco has been largely nonexistent at the plate for the majority of the first seven weeks of the major league schedule.

Franco entered play Friday hitting .243 with seven home runs and a .712 OPS. Franco’s OPS ranks 136th out of 184 qualifying hitters in baseball.

Manager Pete Mackanin hasn’t lost faith in the right-handed slugging third baseman who had a breakout season at the plate as a rookie last summer. But he did remind everyone that the 23-year-old is still a developing player.

Franco, who doesn’t turn 24 until August, has played in all of 135 major league games.

“Last year got him close to establishing himself as a major league hitter,” Mackanin said. “And I think he got a little comfortable with that, and started to do more than he should. He’s kind of reverted back to (the hitter) he was when first got here, lacking plate discipline. I think he’s at the point where you have to remember what made himself successful last year. After all, it’s his first full year in the big leagues this year. He’s still got things to learn, ways to go before he's fully established.”

The thing that has to be frustrating from Mackanin’s standpoint is that each time Franco looks to emerge from a slump, he’s back in one in the span of a day or two.

After an impressive spring training, Franco hit .379 in the Phillies first eight games of the regular season. But then he went into a 3-for-29 tailspin.

Franco appeared to be out of that when he hit three home runs in a two-game span in Milwaukee a month ago. But then he went 5-for-36 (.139) in his next 10 games, with two doubles but no home runs.

Franco again found his power stroke during the middle of the last road trip, hitting two home runs in a four-game span in Miami and Atlanta. But, then, his next eight games: 6-for-31 (.194).

Nearly every professional hitter runs through streaks, but Franco’s sophomore season is seeing him run cooler more often than hot. Franco’s .606 OPS in May is 81st among 98 National League players with at least 50 plate appearances this month (just in front of Freddy Galvis, .577, who is obviously not known for his bat).

Again, almost every hitter goes through a dry spell.

To wit: only 20 NL players have a batting average lower than Franco’s (.210) this month, and the best player in the league (Bryce Harper, .200) and another formidable hitter (Giancarlo Stanton, .175) are among those 20 players.

There’s also this: Franco may have had a breakout season in 2015, but he was hitting just .241 with a .758 in his first three weeks after being promoted from Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He hit .279 with an .827 OPS in the next two months, before fracturing his wrist on a Jeremy Hellickson pitch.


•  General manager Matt Klentak said that top prospect J.P. Crawford was promoted to Triple-A on Friday because the shortstop was “ready for a new challenge.” When asked if Crawford was “theoretically closer to the big leagues” now that he’s in Allentown, however, Klentak didn’t take the bait. “He’s ready for the next stage of his development,” Klentak said of Crawford, currently rated the third best prospect in baseball by 

•  Outfielder Cornelius Randolph, the Phillies first-round pick last season (10th overall), hasn’t played in a game at Low-A Lakewood in a month, since April 21. But Randolph (left shoulder strain) is expected to take batting practice next week and get back into games the first week of June.

•  The Phillies traded veteran infielder Ryan Jackson to the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for cash considerations. Jackson became expendable when Crawford arrived at Lehigh Valley, where Jackson had been the IronPigs’ primary shortstop.

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