A New Hope

Posted: February 24, 2014 in Uncategorized

062313_maikel-francoFor the aging Philadelphia Phillies, prospects are like gold. After nearly a decade of contending, Philadelphia has sacrificed talented minor leaguers with the chance at future stardom for the steep price of present (now past) glory. For Ruben Amaro, however, the cupboard is not bare.

The Phillies possess two elite talents in Maikel Franco and Jesse Biddle, the team’s top two prospects heading into 2014 according to most publications. With Philadelphia’s struggles on the field the last two seasons, the future could be closer than anyone expected. With both of these players heading the farm system, the Phillies have a good shot at developing a star or two for the first time since the likes of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Cole Hamels came through the system in the early-2000s.

Franco, 21, burst out in 2013 by actually improving his numbers following a midseason promotion from Clearwater (A+) to the Reading Fightin’ Phils (AA). The third baseman made Eastern League pitching look like the Connie Mack League, hitting .339-15-51 in 69 games in Reading. Overall, the Dominican corner-infielder hit .320-31-103 in 134 games. This came on the heels of a 2012 that saw Franco hit .280-14-84 in 132 games with Lakewood (A). Franco struggled at times defensively with Reading, so it remains to be seen whether or not third base is his long term position. It doesn’t help that the Phillies currently have another promising youngster, former Nebraska Cornhusker Cody Asche, manning the position with the big league club.

If Asche succeeds in red pinstripes this summer, the book on Franco could change. Philadelphia could opt to change his position. Though, with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley signed for the next three years, the logical options of first and second are out the window. Corner-outfield seems unlikely, too. As Franco doesn’t have the build or the athleticism to succeed at that position (then again, if Delmon Young can do it…). Regardless, 2013 is looking to be a big year for Franco. Another strong campaign with Reading and Lehigh Valley (AAA) could propel the youngster to his first big league call up later this summer.

Biddle, meanwhile, has been towards the top of the Phillies’ prospect charts since he was selected in the first round (27th overall) in 2010. A JesseBiddle6.2011local boy, Biddle played high school ball at nearby Germantown Friends. The southpaw’s first two pro seasons in 2011-12 were brillliant. With Lakewood in ’11 and Clearwater in ’12, Biddle showed the potential that Philadelphia saw when they took him in the first round four years ago (17-14, 3.16). Last year, while playing for the miserable Fightin’ Phils, Biddle struggled more with his command. Even though he did flash sheer brilliance at courses during the season, the 22-year old went 5-14, 3.64 with a career high 154 strikeouts and 82 walks.

Despite the mediocre stat line, it had to be considered a successful season for Biddle. His performances against Harrisburg and New Hampshire during a two start period in April were ones for the ages. In those games, Biddle combined to go 13 IP, giving up just 2 hits, no runs, 5 walks, and 26 strikeouts. It’s showings like these that make him the most intriguing pitching prospect in the system. Biddle ran into fatigue problems towards the end of 2013, so that bears focus as 2014 gets underway. The lefty is expected to pitch the majority of the season with Reading and Lehigh Valley. Though, if injuries strike Philadelphia’s rotation, it would not be a shock to see Biddle in the majors later on this summer.

The Phillies’ system has been much maligned over the last few years by media and analysts alike. While it may not be as hyped as the Red Sox’s or Rays’ systems, Philadelphia still possesses quite a few diamonds in the rough for fans to wait in anticipation for. Franco and Biddle might be the most heralded. But, they’re not the only prospects who will prove to be impact performers in the future.

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