Maikel Framco knows this is an important season with the Philadelphia Phillies
Though still young, Maikel Franco has reached a pivotal point in his development where the Phillies need to determine if he's a long-term answer at third base.

This spring means a lot. So much so that the club is bucking the spring tradition of numerical order stall assignments in the clubhouse and placed Franco's No. 41 nameplate next to veteran Carlos Santana and his No. 7 locker.

“Definitely not by accident,” manager Gabe Kapler said.

Santana wants to be near Franco to tutor the 25-year-old and share his philosophy of working counts and reaching base. He's a much-needed teacher for a pupil that's seemingly lost focus on how to piece together solid at-bats. Both are from the Dominican and know each other from playing winter ball together.

“The way Santana manages an at-bat is second to none,” Kapler said. “He has so much plate discipline, and I think Franco has that ability too and he’s showed that at times in the past. Just watching how Santana manages an at-bat will be important. But also the professionalism. Santana is an incredible gregarious, warm, open individual. All of us aspire to be that. I think every man in that room aspires to be that. It’s not just Franco, but I’m glad that they’re next to each other. All of us can follow that example.”

Franco failed to breakout last season and his maturation as a big league hitter sputtered. His .281 on-base percentage was the lowest among all third baseman and fourth worst among all hitters. He walked just 41 times, and his .409 slugging percentage was the fourth lowest by a corner infielder.

It's now or never to prove he belongs in organization's future plans, especially considering the cash the Phillies have to spend with notable free-agents hitting the market next year, including superstar Manny Machado.

“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.”

Kapler visited the Dominican last winter to watch Franco workout and to discuss his role with the club, particularly letting him know he has the ability to be a cornerstone of the final version of the current rebuild.

″(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 came to Clearwater, Fla. in better shape and 10 pounds lighter. It's a step towards showing his intent to improve and become a force in a young Phillies lineup.

“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.”

The blueprint for the coming weeks is simple.

“It is basically one thing and one thing only, and that is to work every single day. We’re going to work together every single day,” Santana said. “We’re going to make sure he executes the plan he wants to follow. I know he’s a guy that’s very talented and he’s capable of a lot. So I’m going to be there. I’m committed to helping him. I’m going to be in the cage, hitting as many balls as possible.
Follow Patrick on Twitter: @PGordonPBR

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