CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) — By the end of the 2017 season Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco had lost his role as the team’s cleanup hitter and was spending as much time on the bench as he was in the lineup.

Franco, 25, knew something had to change and he arrived to camp early 10 pounds lighter and motivated to regain the form earlier in his career.

“This is an important year, it’s going to be really important for me,” Franco said. “After 2017 I decided that I had to work harder and get better and do what I could to help my team. I feel very good, I’ve been working hard and I’m excited for this team and I need to just keep it up and get betting every day.”

Franco saw his average dip to .230 last year with a .281 on-base percentage. He didn’t improve on his power numbers or his walks and eventually lost some playing time to September call-ups.

Manager Gabe Kapler went to the Dominican Republic in the offseason and met with Franco to emphasize how important he was to the team. The message resonated and Franco worked with personal trainer to improve his conditioning.

“(Kapler) played baseball, too, and he was able to explain to me what I had to do,” Franco said. “He supports me, he told me the right ways to get better and I appreciate that.”

Franco admits that at times he had the wrong mental approach at the plate and it led to some overaggressive swings and poor at-bats.

“I needed to relax more, just play my game the right way,” he said. “Try not to force the situation, be overaggressive and control my emotions more. Just have fun. Sometimes you try to do too much and that’s the part that I want to calm down.”

Franco’s efforts to improve his body and his overall approach haven’t gone unnoticed by Kapler.

“He looks great and seemingly he feels really good about himself, which is a huge plus for us,” Kapler said. “I think this year is big for Franco but I think it’s been for all of us. Specifically he should be focused on the step right in front of him. That’s not to say April, May, June aren’t important but today’s workout and (tomorrow’s) workout are the ones most consequential right now.”


Kapler has brought in umpires to create more game-like situations for the pitchers and catchers during bullpen sessions. He credited the team’s catcher’s receiver’s coach, Craig Driver, for the idea and says the idea has been well received by the players.

“We went around specifically to our veteran pitchers and guys that have been with us for a while asked them what they thought about this,” Kapler said. “And this is totally optional. So if you don’t like an umpire back there or you’re not ready and it doesn’t feel right to you right now, let us know and we’ll move them out of the way.”

Kapler said that the umpires, who are being brought in from different minor leagues, will also be part of live batting practice during workouts.

“I’m really excited about that because historically we’ve had catchers or coaches calling balls and strikes,” he said. “And inherently catchers are going to be biased because they want the drill to move along quickly and coaches are like ‘we’re old and don’t have the best looks, we’re not as close to the plate and don’t have the experience.’

“Umpires are better than we think. It’s not an easy job and I respect the work that they do.”

(Copyright 2018 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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