CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Mike Schmidt arrived in Phillies camp on Friday and was pretty frank when the subject of Maikel Franco came up.
"I was disappointed," the Hall of Fame third baseman said of the current third baseman's 2016 season. "I had a lot higher expectations for Maikel. I may have had the highest expectations, as a matter of fact."
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Indeed, it was a year ago at this time when Schmidt said Franco had MVP potential.
Franco, who turned 24 in August, drove in a team-high 88 runs in 2016 and shared the team lead in homers (25) with Ryan Howard. However, he hit just .255 with a .733 OPS. In 80 games in 2015, he hit .280 with a .840 OPS. Those numbers helped fuel Schmidt's high expectations for Franco last season.
"He didn't live up to my expectations last year, but maybe that's part of the plan for him in a stepping stone year," Schmidt said. "I think he should definitely go to the 30-100 category this year. Definitely, barring any injuries.
"If I was mentoring Maikel Franco right now, I would say, 'Son, we're going to be the MVP. And nothing is going to stop us but an injury. And we're going to stretch like hell before every game.' That's what I would be thinking. If I had that talent, I wouldn't be thinking about 25 and 88. I would be thinking about the MVP."
Franco's shortcomings have been well publicized. He is not a selective hitter and everyone from the front office, which wants to build around players who "control the strike zone," to hitting coach Matt Stairs would like to see him improve in that area. Simple experience could help Franco in that area this season. So could the addition an experienced bat (Michael Saunders) behind him. Franco was a marked man in the Phillies' lineup and often expanded his strike zone as he tried to carry too big a load. The addition of Saunders and Howie Kendrick could help take some pressure off him.
"The area that he has to develop better is game-planning at home plate and understanding there is a guy in the batter's box behind him and that a walk with men on second and third is a possibility," Schmidt said. "His desire to drive in those two runs or getting three with a home run swing leads to those at-bats where you give an at-bat away because you don't have the right game plan.
"It's not mechanics and it's not physical -- it's more up here," Schmidt said, pointing to his head.
Franco could benefit from the hiring of Stairs, who replaced Steve Henderson.
"In Matt's case, there will be more time spent on the mental side of hitting and more in-game coaching," Schmidt said. "I think that is a big addition to our hitters. No disrespect to the former guy -- he's a wonderful guy. But I think that Matt will be more into a different message, something new and more on the game plan and mental, managing yourself in the batter's box, making adjustments.
"It's not that Steve wasn't the same way, but it will be a better communication channel as far as looking for a fastball middle-in 1-0. Let's not be hitting it over the opposite dugout. Let's be looking for a ball to pull. We have a lot of young kids who go into the batter's box and say, 'Here I am', see the ball and hit it. And you'll see a 2-0 pitch fouled over the first base dugout. At 2-0, they are hitting more defensively and they should be hitting offensively."
Schmidt saw some of Franco's selectivity issues up close as a part of the CSN Philly broadcast team last year.
He also saw something else that he believes Franco needs to improve on.
"Sometimes, Maikel looks like, 'Where's his mind?'" Schmidt said. "He kind of sometimes lets moments in games go based upon the score or based upon attitude. I'm not saying this disrespectfully -- it's normal. Not everyone is like Pete Rose. He knows what's happened in every at-bat for every player on the team during the game. He's sitting on the top step of the dugout screaming at the other team. Not everyone is like that. Your mind can wander and I think sometimes his does a little bit."
Schmidt still believes Franco has MVP potential and he intends on telling him that during his time in camp as a guest instructor.
"That's what I would say to him right now -- 'There's no reason you can't be the best player in the league,' " Schmidt said.