Asked how he’s improved since he arrived in the majors as a 22-year-old with the Philadelphia Phillies, Maikel Franco’s mind first went to an area separate from the baseball field.
“First of all, my English,” he said before breaking into a prideful laugh.
The Orioles signed Franco to a one-year deal Tuesday, adding the 28-year-old to a relatively thin third base depth chart. When Franco made his major league debut in September 2014, he was Philadelphia’s No. 1 prospect and among the top 20 in baseball. In Baltimore, he sees the chance to live up to that lofty status.
“When you get experience, when you know what you have to do to get better, when you know what you have to do coming in and feel proud of how you work, the way you work, it’s a blessing,” Franco said Wednesday. “Now, I know more. I know better, this game, so I just try, coming in, to show a lot of energy, working out the right way, and then I feel proud.”
Franco played for the Phillies through 2019, and though he hit at least 22 home runs from 2016 to 2018, he was only an above-average producer as measured by OPS+ in one of those seasons. After Philadelphia nontendered him, he spent 2020 with the Kansas City Royals, playing in all 60 of their games in the coronavirus-shortened season. He posted a 109 OPS+ — league average is 100 — but the Royals nontendered him to send him into free agency again.
Wednesday, Franco acknowledged “it’s business,” but said waiting until two weeks before Opening Day to sign with a team was a challenge. Because of his late start to spring training, Franco’s contract gives the Orioles the option to have him begin the regular season at their alternate training site in Bowie in case he’s not prepared to be on the Opening Day roster.
But Franco fully expects to be ready by April 1.
“In the offseason, I never stopped working out,” Franco said. “I took ground balls. I did my gym. I did my swing. Every day, I’m just taking [batting practice] and doing my routine and doing everything I can to get better this year. I think it’s not going to be that long.”
Should he live up to that, it’s possible Franco could start on Opening Day at Boston’s Fenway Park alongside shortstop Freddy Galvis, who he played with in Philadelphia through 2017, though he’ll have to compete with incumbent third baseman Rio Ruiz in the final weeks of spring. Franco praised Galvis as a teammate and mentor Wednesday.
“I’ve followed Freddy for a long time,” Franco said. “He’s a really, really good shortstop. I’m just trying to get the best information that I can have from him. I’m just trying to continue to work with him, getting better with him. It’s going to be great.”
Galvis said he’s known Franco since the Phillies signed the latter as a 17-year-old out of the Dominican Republic and is looking forward to being his teammate once again in Baltimore.
“We are really good friends, man,” Galvis said. “The Orioles, they’re getting a really good player. He has a pretty good arm. He can hit with some pop. He can hit for average, too. A lot of energy, for sure, and he can play defense. He gets some at-bats, and he can put [together] the year that he thinks he can.”
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said he saw Franco in the minor leagues while working in the Chicago Cubs’ front office, then in the majors as a member of the Cubs’ coaching staff.
“A guy that had big power and a great arm from third base and a good hitter that made contact,” Hyde said. “He’s just got a lot of tools. He was a big-time threat at the plate. He showcased his arm when he needed it. He was a pretty exciting player. I haven’t seen him in a couple years, but I really liked him as a younger player in Philadelphia.”
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Improvement was Franco’s consistent talking point throughout Wednesday’s introductory Zoom call. In addition to his growth in English, he brought up his defense, his offense and his mindset.
He wants to put them all on display for Baltimore.
“The team gave me an opportunity to play, to show my talent,” Franco said. “At the end of the day, that’s what I’m looking for. Try to come and try to play most of the games that I can, and I know this team can give me the opportunity to do that, so that’s the first priority. I know the Orioles are going to be really good to me, so I took the opportunity and just do everything that I can do to help my team win and show a lot of energy, show a lot of patience, and play the game the right way.
“I just want an opportunity to get better and do everything that I can do, man.”
Around the horn
>> Hyde said Félix Hernández, who exited Tuesday’s start after one inning with right elbow discomfort, will continue to undergo treatment, but an MRI is not currently planned.
>> While Franco, DJ Stewart (hamstring) and Richie Martin (broken left hamate) took live at-bats Wednesday, first baseman Chris Davis (back) remains without a timetable to return, Hyde said. Davis turned 35 on Wednesday.
>> The Orioles announced that all of their home games in April, May and September scheduled to start at 6:35 p.m. will instead begin at 7:05 p.m.