Not since the Phillies re-signing of Cliff Lee in 2010 have the Phillies pulled off the type of stunning move that has now brought Jake Arietta to the club, officially announced today.
As Jake tweeted, “It’s time”. The Phillies were really bad last year, finishing the year with a record of 66 wins and 96 losses landing them firmly in last place in the National League’s Eastern Division.
It’s almost a guarantee that the Phillies will move up in the standings. The Marlins have been substantially weakened by the loss of Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees, and the Mets and Braves have done little to upgrade themselves compared to the Phillies’ acquisition of free agent Carlos Santana and Jake Arrieta. But it isn’t just the acquisition of two established players that may prove to be the turning point that vaults the Phillies into 2nd place in the NL East this year.
Now that the club has addressed a glaring weakness on the mound, it’s time to do something about third base. Not since Scott Rolen (who visited camp yesterday) have the Phillies had anyone at the hot corner with the type of offensive production that contending teams typically get from the position. As David Murphy pointed out last year, Franco is a compulsive swinger who has no idea how to manage a count and would be an eight-hole hitter on a contending team. But his lack of plate discipline and offensive production is just the tip of the iceberg. Take a look at this clip of Franco during minor league camp in spring training six years ago, and tell me what you notice:
The obvious observation is that he swings at the first pitch, but the more nuanced part to the at bat is the way he busts it down the first base line even though he’s out. Frankly it’s the way that every player should run to first every time a ball is put into play. That includes a live ball that gets past the catcher on strike three. But all too often Franco trots half-heartedly to first base, and that lack of urgency isn’t part of a winning culture. We’ve witnessed it too much this spring and not just from Franco. J.P. Crawford, Odubel Herrera, and Nick Williams are just as guilty. Interestingly, at various times, those three players have been in hot water about “attitude issues” in the past.
Franco came into this spring training with alot to prove. Instead of trending up toward Scott Rolen-like numbers last year, his production nose-dived providing little upgrade over Cody Asche who he displaced. And then there was controversy during the off-season in January this year in the Dominican League when he was sanctioned for partying with teammates into the wee hours of playoff game day.
The Phillies wound up shutting down Franco in the Dominican so that he could concentrate on getting ready for spring training. I have a feeling that it wasn’t just the disciplinary issues. A look at Franco’s stats shows that he wasn’t doing much at the plate for the Gigantes del Cibao, and the Phils figured he was just further embedding poor habits.
Part of the problem of course is that no one is in the wings waiting to displace Franco from third base. Coming into camp, Will Middlebrooks was to be given a shot but that experiment ended quickly when he was carted off the field after a nasty ankle injury. The Phils have had fill-ins there like Pedro Florimon and Jesmuel Valentin, either of whom would be an upgrade over Franco’s laid-back style but neither of whom has the pop in his bat expected from the position. But the Phils do have someone in camp who not only shows plate discipline and busts it to first base on every at bat, but who also has long ball potential solidified in the minors last year.
Scott Kingery has all the attributes of a hungry young player that Gabe Kapler can identify with. An honor roll student in high school, Kingery was ignored by Division 1 colleges for baseball, told that he was too small to succeed on the diamond. The undeterred Kingery went on to excel in college as a walk-on and has the type of DNA that makes him a potential Zobrist-like super-sub that has become so popular these days. He is blocked in the Phillies system at SS by Crawford and at 2B by Hernandez, but where the Phillies could really use him now is at 3B to push Franco. It is curious then that despite fielding the position flawlessly in four games with the Pigs last year, Kingery hasn’t been given any playing time at 3B this spring training that I can recall.
Give me that lineup sheet, Gabe, and I’ll show you where to pencil Kingery in. It’s time.