Top Prospect #12: Martire Franco

At one time, Martire Franco was mentioned among the top starting pitching prospects in the Phillies' organization. Now, with a successful move to the bullpen in 2004, Franco may have been reinvented as a reliever to watch in the not too distant future.

Martire Franco has seemingly stalled in his attempt to reach the majors. In a little over a week, Franco turns 27 and needs a productive 2005 season to maintain his prospect status.

Franco's career started with the Phillies Dominican Summer League team and it looked like he would come to the states and move quickly through the system. When he first arrived, he saw his ERA climb, but not to levels that really worried the Phillies. Eventually, he made it to AA Reading and the troubles really started as he went 4-8, 5.76 with the R-Phils in 2002. Even then though, there were things to like about Franco. He was able to complete two games, tying for fifth in the Eastern League in the category. He had gained some velocity on his pitches, but was simply trying to make every pitch perfect and got himself into trouble. He again struggled at Reading in 2003, but turned the corner with a strong season last year at the AA level.

If Franco takes to AAA this season, he will be back on track, although behind where it was thought that he would be at this point in his career. If he struggles there, he'll risk falling by the wayside and will likely be surpassed by many other prospects fighting for their shot at a future with the Phillies.

1998 Dominican 3 2 2.93 0 14 2 0 28.2 19 14 10 7 29
1999 Dominican 3 0 1.50 5 23 0 0 24.0 18 7 4 3 31
2000 Piedmont 8 6 4.13 0 24 23 2 126.1 146 70 58 57 89
2001 Clearwater 11 8 4.13 0 26 24 4 161.1 178 84 74 41 97
2002 Reading 4 8 5.76 0 16 16 2 89.0 109 62 57 25 50
2003 Clearwater 0 0 2.25 0 1 1 0 4.0 4 3 1 1 3
2003 Reading 4 7 5.71 4 28 13 1 86.2 116 66 55 25 47
2004 Reading 4 4 3.30 15 48 0 0 85.0 73 31 31 20 63
Career 28 32 4.32 24 180 79 9 605.0 663 337 290 179 409

Acquired: Signed as an amateur free agent on July 1, 1998.

Pitching: Franco has become less of a strikeout pitcher than he was early in his career. He still throws hard, but relies on keeping the ball down in the zone rather than blowing it by hitters. That's not to say that he doesn't pick up his share of strikeouts, but he does have a different approach from when he first came into the organization. Actually, that's a good thing, because Franco wouldn't have had enough heat to simply live on throwing pitches past hitters.

Projection: Another change has been that Franco was moved out of the rotation and into the bullpen. He pitched well in closing situations at Reading in 2004 and it appears that the Phillies will keep him in the bullpen rather than move him back to the rotation. That was a bit of a surprising move since Franco gave a good amount of innings as a starter earlier in his career. He has had some minor arm problems over the past couple of seasons though and may be suited to pitching in shorter stints.

ETA: Franco's major league arrival will depend on how he handles AAA this season. Odds are that it will be at least next spring until he would get any serious consideration for a shot with the big league club.

Comparison: Franco could be another Amaury Telemaco. He throws a little harder than Telemaco though. The Phillies had actually hoped for more from Franco when he was first signed, but for now, they would be satisfied if he could simply become a solid major league reliever at some point.

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