Maikel Franco
Time for Phillies to spotlight Franco
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Michael Rushton - MLB Contributor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - With an offense that ranks as one of the worst in the league and an up-and-down pitching staff, the Philadelphia Phillies aren't a very marketable team right now.

Prospect Maikel Franco may have changed that this week.

The Phillies' golden age of 2007-11, a span that featured five straight NL East titles and a 2008 World Championship, has quickly become a distant memory thanks to the abrupt downward spiral currently infecting the franchise. Philadelphia has posted consecutive 89-loss seasons and the record may only get worse in 2015.

How about an offense that ranks dead last in baseball with 171 runs and a .349 slugging percentage? How about a team hitting a collective .236? How about a staff ace in Cole Hamels sure to be traded at this year's deadline?

That is all reality for the Phillies, who are 21-34 and nine games out of first place, so there is little to do but look ahead, and Franco's heroics this week are a good place to start.

Considered one of the club's top prospects, Franco came through in a pair of clutch situations during a series with the Cincinnati Reds. In Tuesday's 5-4 win, he hit a game-tying two-run home run in the eighth inning to set up a walk-off victory, then duplicated that success the following night against Reds closer Aroldis Chapman.

Franco faced Chapman in the ninth inning on Wednesday with the Phillies down 4-1, having already plated a run in the frame. The 22-year-old third baseman squared up on a 98 mph fastball from Chapman and blasted the pitch into the left-field seats for a three-run homer.

According to MLB.com's statcast, the ball had an exit velocity of 105 mph.

"What I've seen from Maikel is the better the pitcher, the better the stuff is, the better he is at hitting," teammate Cody Asche told Philadelphia's website. "He's unbelievable. It's unbelievable the skill he's got. He's got a quick bat. And the ability to drive high velocity fastballs is not something you see from a young player. That's a tough skill to have."

Obviously, Franco still has a long way to come as a major league player. He is hitting just .227, but with four homers and 14 RBI in 19 games this season after batting .179 without a home run in 16 games last season as a September call-up.

With little else to root for, Phillies fans will be patient with Franco, who ended Chapman's consecutive saves streak at 29.

Philadelphia would be wise to push Franco front and center for the rest of the season. Fans will come to see a young player cut his teeth at the major league level. They won't settle for seeing aging former stars like Chase Utley (.206) and Ryan Howard (.234) continue to struggle at the plate.

Philadelphia general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. insists he won't rush up young talent, so fans will have to wait to see the rest of the upcoming core that includes 20-year-old shortstop J.P. Crawford, right-handed starter Aaron Nola and 22-year-old outfielder Roman Quinn.

At 22 years of age and with college experience, Nola figures to be the next of that wave to join Franco at the big league level. But that probably won't come until Hamels, the 2008 World Series MVP, is dealt for more building blocks.

That leaves Franco plenty of time to capture the attention of Philadelphia.

"I'm just trying my best," Franco told his team's website. "I try to do better every day. I come in every day and I'm just trying to be the best in the game."

Things may get a little worse before they get better in Philadelphia, but Franco has a chance to be a diamond amongst the rubble.

The Phillies would be wise to shine the spotlight on that jewel.

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