March 10, 2017

CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) When a Hall of Fame player who is the best third baseman in franchise history says the man playing his former position is an MVP candidate, people notice and expect to see great things.

Maikel Franco didn't live up to Mike Schmidt's grand expectations in his first full season with the Philadelphia Phillies. He was no slouch, either. Still, Franco knows he has the talent to do more.

''This guy did everything in baseball,'' Franco said of Schmidt. ''He tells me to get better every single day and I'm proud to hear him say that. It's a good thing for me. I have to continue to get better, continue to work and continue to prove myself.''

Franco hit .280 with 14 homers and 50 RBIs in only 80 games after coming up to the majors in 2015. His performance in half a season led Schmidt to conclude Franco was on the verge of becoming a special player. Schmidt, a three-time NL MVP who helped the Phillies win the 1980 World Series, spends part of spring training as a guest instructor for the team and serves as a weekend television analyst for home games.

Franco had an outstanding spring in 2016, but struggled with consistency during the regular season. His average fell to .255 and OBP dropped to .306. Franco hit 25 homers with 88 RBIs, tying shortstop Freddy Galvis for the team-lead with 49 extra-base hits.

''I had a lot higher expectations for Maikel,'' Schmidt said. ''I may have had the highest expectations. That was mostly from how I saw him hit in spring training, our personal conversations, and his willingness to listen and his sense of relaxing. It was spring training and he was very relaxed, just letting the game come to him.''

Franco knows he must be more disciplined at the plate. He struck out 106 times and drew only 40 walks last year. Manager Pete Mackanin plans to bat Franco in the cleanup spot with Odubel Herrera in front of him and Michael Saunders behind him.

Saunders was an All-Star last season in Toronto, though he slumped in the second half. He should provide more protection for Franco than Ryan Howard did last season. Howie Kendrick, another veteran addition, will likely hit second but the batting order can change.

''Those guys have been around for a lot of years and they know to win and they will help the team a lot,'' Franco said of Kendrick and Saunders.

Franco has to be more patient and avoid swinging at bad pitches. He was often too aggressive and gave away too many at-bats. Franco started off the exhibition season being selective, but he's only 5 for 22 (.227) with three homers, six RBIs, and one walk with six strikeouts.

''I think I can do better in 2017,'' Franco said. ''Just coming in, trying to get better every day and do my routine, doing my prep and trying to get better. Expectations are higher than last year. I'll be ready to go.''

NOTES: Phillies RHP Clay Buchholz allowed three runs and four hits in 3 1/3 innings against the Yankees. Buchholz struck out six and was pleased with his performance except for giving up Chase Headley's three-run homer in the first inning. ... Yankees RHP Chad Green threw two scoreless innings, giving up two hits and three walks.


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