Baseball / Sports

Franco makes debut as Phillies blank Braves

ATLANTA -- The 60-yard dash is always the first test for a teenage baseball player who attends a big-league tryout camp in the Dominican Republic. In 2008, when Maikel Franco auditioned months before his 16th birthday, his time neared eight seconds. That scared scouts.

"You kind of get reluctant," said Sal Agostinelli, the Phillies' international scouting director.

Most teams did. The Phillies persisted and paid Franco $100,000 in January 2010. So here was Franco, less than four years after signing, for his debut Tuesday as the youngest Phillies position player since 2000.

His name appeared in Ryne Sandberg's lineup, at third base batting seventh, in a 4-0 Phillies win over Atlanta. He went 0-for-3 with a sacrifice fly in the first of what should be 50 or 60 at-bats this month. A team castigated for its elderliness could boast a future asset.

"It surprised me because I started last year in Clearwater," Franco said. "Now I'm here. I think I go quick."

He smiled.

Franco's at-bats Tuesday mimicked his rise. He looked anxious. He swung at the first pitch in both the fifth and sixth innings. Both times, he grounded out. He stranded the bases loaded in the sixth. But his sac fly in the eighth extended the Phillies' lead to four runs.

The Phillies challenged Franco with a September promotion because of how he responded to a slow start at triple-A Lehigh Valley. He was one of the youngest players in the International League. He flourished in July and August to make his season numbers respectable.

"In a lot of ways, he kind of forced our hand," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "He showed us that he improved enough to get an opportunity to come up here and play some. Pretty simple. He played very, very good baseball for the entire second half. When we see young players come along, all we really want to see is improvement. And he was clearly doing that."

Sandberg could play Franco at both third and first base. But Amaro was sure to label Cody Asche "our third baseman" and Ryan Howard "our first baseman." Sandberg wants Franco to reach 50 at-bats.

"That would make it worthwhile for him to be here," Sandberg said.

It is a special moment for Agostinelli whenever one of his international signees reaches the minors. He credited former Phillies scout Koby Perez for his diligence on Franco despite the subpar 60-yard dash time.

"But the thing about Maikel is he did work at it," Agostinelli said. "Fortunately for us, a lot of teams walked away from him."

As for that $100,000 bonus?

"Right now," Agostinelli said, "it looks like a steal."

(c)2014 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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