CLEARWATER, Fla. - Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt has arrived in Phillies camp for a weeklong stay as a guest instructor.
Schmidt always has interesting opinions. Two years ago, he proclaimed that third baseman Maikel Franco had MVP potential. Now, the clock is ticking on Franco, 25. If team officials don't see his offensive talents come together this season, they could pursue Manny Machado as a free agent next offseason. In the interim, it would not be surprising to see Scott Kingery, the team's second baseman of the future, make a stop at third sometime this season if the Phillies sought more offense consistency from the position.
Despite leading the team in home runs (24) and RBIs (76) last season, Franco saw his OPS crash to .690, worst among 18 big-league third basemen with at least 400 plate appearances. But Schmidt still sees MVP potential in Franco and has faith it will all come together for him.
"Absolutely, it will," Schmidt said. "But I think it's going to take a little more willingness to - how do I say this? He has to find that ability to put the ball in play with two strikes more often, the ability to tone it down a little, maybe get a little Joey Votto, where, ‘I have a swing for two strikes to put the ball in play more often to keep the rally going, get that RBI.' Those kind of things.
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"I think it's going to take a mental commitment by Maikel to make that happen. I'm not going to teach him, but he knows what I think because we talk a lot, but I'm not his day-to-day coach. I said, ‘You know, you've just got to hit your pitch when you swing at it and the only way to do that is to make your swing shorter and quicker and down to the ball.' Maikel tends to want to launch a little bit, he gets anxious. But I say it every year, he could be an MVP as easily as anybody this year."
It was interesting to hear Schmidt talk about how Franco's desire to launch the ball can be a potential detriment. Launching the ball with a slight uppercut is actually something the Phillies' analytically driven front office would like to see Franco do. General manager Matt Klentak said as much at the winter meetings when he noted Franco has high exit velocities - i.e., he hits the ball hard. In theory, keeping the ball in the air more should result in more extra-base hits and homers and fewer double-play balls for the slow-footed Franco.
This is all part of the new science of baseball and the Phillies, once as old school as they get, have embraced it.
It's all new to Schmidt, whose swing, despite a downward plane, produced 548 homers.
"There's a little bit of analytics stuff that they're using now, they want the ball in the air more than on the ground, a slight uppercut," Schmidt said. "I would dispute a few of those things, but a couple years from now I might be preaching it myself."
Schmidt said that when he became a complete hitter, "I had more of a downward plane, down to the ball and a natural finish. Hit the equator of the ball and you'll create a hard-hit ball and line drive. I do not believe in trying to create a ball that's not on the ground. I do not, but that's just me.
"I used to preach if you don't hit a line drive, I want you to hit it on the ground because you'll be more productive. I want to prevent the fly ball. Now, I wouldn't tell Aaron Judge to prevent the fly ball. I may not tell that to Rhys Hoskins. But I surely want Cesar Hernandez not to hit fly balls.
"There are a lot of new theories these days that we wouldn't have subscribed to back in the day. It could pan out to make us totally wrong."