Asche and Franco keys to Phillies' future

CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) Thirty minutes after a game ended, Cody Asche was back on the field in full uniform taking swings off a pitching machine.

He'll rest in the offseason.

''Until you've reached the apex of the game, you have to strive to get better,'' Asche said. ''You get in trouble when you're content with what you did in the past. In this game, what you did in the past doesn't mean anything in the present day. You have to prove yourself on an everyday basis and that's what I try to do.''

A year ago, Asche was being compared to Chase Utley. Now, he's competing with Maikel Franco at third base.

It's a good problem for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Rebuilding teams need talented young players to turn things around. Asche and Franco are two of the guys the Phillies are counting on for the future. Shortstop Freddy Galvis, infielder Cesar Hernandez are among the others on the major league roster.

''We have a lot of young players, a lot of potential,'' Franco said. ''We all have to keep working and be ready for everything.''

The 24-year-old Asche was the team's regular third baseman last year. He hit .252 with 10 homers, 25 doubles and 46 RBIs in 397 at-bats. Asche drew comparisons to Utley after he arrived in Philadelphia in July 2013. He has a similar build, but his left-handed swing isn't quite like Utley's just yet.

''I don't think anybody can be what Chase was,'' Asche said. ''He was a very unique player who doesn't come around very often. I try to model some aspects of my game after him. His talent and skill level is off the charts and you can't model yourself after that, but you can take away his approach to the game, his preparation to the game and that's what I try to do.''

That explains the extra batting practice after a game, something several Phillies are doing this spring.

Franco, the organization's top hitting prospect, also has a strong work ethic. The right-handed hitter batted .257 with 16 homers and 78 RBIs in a full season at Triple-A last year. He was 10 for 56 for the Phillies after a September call-up.

''I've been more focused on my offense because sometimes I feel lost at home plate,'' the 22-year-old Franco said. ''I put a lot of pressure on myself. So, I come in early and try to do my routine. I want to continue prepping, do my work and be ready for everything.''

Franco arrived at camp with an opportunity to win the starting job after a strong season in the Dominican Winter League. But he'll likely start the season in the minors. If the Phillies trade Ryan Howard, it would open a spot for Franco at first base.

Franco has the edge over Asche defensively at third base, but he's comfortable at either corner position. He said he played more first base in the winter.

Asche has shagged flies in the outfield, though it's uncertain if the Phillies will try him there in a game.

''I feel as comfortable as can be without playing a game,'' Asche said. ''You never know what it's like until you play in a game. I'm completely open to it. I want to stay in this game and on this team as long as I can. I want to give back to this organization what they've given to me. As a young guy, your best bet is to keep all doors open and be as versatile as you can.''

There was talk Asche would eventually move to second base to replace Utley. But Asche's struggles at second in his first summer in pro ball in 2011 - 15 errors in 64 games - left a bad impression.

''It didn't go well,'' Asche said. ''That door kind of closed then and has never been revisited. You spend three, four years on one side of the diamond and then you're thrown over to the other side in pro ball, it's different. Maybe I'm not the best at adjusting, but it didn't come easy or natural to me.''

Somehow, the Phillies will probably find a way to get Asche and Franco in the lineup together at some point this year.

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Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AP-RobMaaddi

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