News Column

Futures players Franco, Crawford give Phillies hope

July 14, 2014

By Matt Gelb, The Philadelphia Inquirer

July 14--MINNEAPOLIS -- Maikel Franco and Domingo Santana were teammates for 11 days in 2011 at single-A Lakewood, and the two Dominicans born 21 days apart in August 1992 occupied a corner of the visitors' clubhouse Sunday afternoon at Target Field. They represent the game's scarcest commodity -- powerful, young position players -- and laughed at the placement of their lockers.

This reunion at Sunday's annual Futures Game was orchestrated.

"I think so," Santana said.

"Oh, yeah," Franco said.

Neither wanted to be in Minnesota on Sunday; it meant they were still minor-leaguers. Santana -- traded by the Phillies to Houston for Hunter Pence -- failed a four-game promotion to the majors with the Astros that resulted in 11 strikeouts over 13 hitless at bats. Franco has a .649 OPS at triple-A Lehigh Valley; an inconsistent three months have delayed his arrival to Philadelphia.

But their paths are still promising, as is the one for 19-year-old J.P. Crawford, a Phillies shortstop prospect. Because the Phillies jettisoned talents like Santana, they must bank on Franco and Crawford to inject youth into a fading franchise. No position player picked to play Sunday was younger than Crawford, who went 1 for 2 with a bloop single and a stolen base in a 3-2 victory by the U.S. all-stars over the World stars.

The Phillies had two position players in the Futures Game for the first time since 2008, when Lou Marson, Jason Donald and Greg Golson were selected. None of them prospered, although they did help land Cliff Lee. Such is the nature of prospecting. From 2009-12, just two Phillies position players appeared in the game: Domonic Brown and Sebastian Valle.

Santana's brief flop in the majors with Houston offered another lesson: Patience is required for young hitters, especially in the game's pitching-driven environment.

This was Franco's second Futures Game in a row; he flied out twice for the World team. Franco's goal remains a major-league debut sometime in 2014. It is not impossible if Franco continues his current hot streak and the Phillies dismantle.

"That's where I want to be," Franco said. "I want to stay strong and keep working hard. Sometimes it's not my decision. My plan is to stay true, keep working hard, and have fun. We'll see what happens."

Both Franco and Crawford have experienced growing pains with higher competition. Franco, 16 for 41 (. 390) in July, said he "didn't change anything" in his approach. The adjustment to better pitching (with more breaking balls) required time.

"I'm feeling confident in my game," Franco said. "I don't feel pressure. I don't think about anything bad."

The process is longer for Crawford, who has played professional baseball for a little more than a year. He made a smooth turn on a 4-6-3 double play Sunday in the fifth inning. He displayed a certain comfort in his few actions.

"I didn't think I'd be here in my first year -- maybe in the next two or three years," Crawford said. "It came a lot faster than I planned."

The Phillies and Crawford could not have planned a better first year of professional ball for the shortstop, who has played at single-A Lakewood and Clearwater. This season could conclude at double-A Reading if the aggressive approach is followed. Either way, Crawford has no regrets about spurning a scholarship from Southern Cal.

"It's been great," he said. "Living on your own, not having to worry about any school or any problems back home, you wake up and play baseball. You can't ask for anything better than that."

A rebuilding process will prompt increased attention on Crawford, who is aware of the circumstances.

"I know that," Crawford said. "Hopefully in the next two years I'll be up there -- if all goes as planned."




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Source: Philadelphia Inquirer (PA)

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