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2013 Paul Owens Awards Winners - Maikel Franco, 3B and Severino Gonzalez, SP

The Phillies awarded their top prospects yesterday with hardware for their performances during the 2013 season. The Paul Owens Awards are given to the best player and pitcher in the Phillies minor league system.

Last year's award winners Tyler Cloyd and Darin Ruf accept the Paul Owens Awards
Last year's award winners Tyler Cloyd and Darin Ruf accept the Paul Owens Awards

Maikel Franco, 3B, began the 2013 season with the Clearwater Threshers for 65 games.  All he did was hit 16 home runs (40 XBH) and 52 RBI for a .299/.349/.576 slash line.  At the time of his promotion he was leading the Florida State League in doubles (23) and tied in home runs (16) with Minnesota Twins mega prospect Miguel Sano.  He was promoted to Reading on June 19 and appeared in his first game on June 20.  Somehow the fast rising prospect performed even better against more advanced pitching.  While his K-rate went down, however, his walk-rate also crept below his Clearwater average.  The final line after 69 games though was promising to say the least: .339/.363/.563 with 15 HR, 51 RBI (30 XBH).  His combined stats for the season were 36 2B, 3 3B, 31 HR, 103 RBI, 1 SB, 2 CS, 30 BB, 70 K, .320 AVG, .356 OBP, .569 SLG in 541 total at bats across Clearwater and Reading.

Does this all sound too good to be true? Well, varying reports on Franco's approach have produced different points of view on his projected success at higher levels.  He has very good bat speed, but has a failure to recognize off-speed pitches.  He is mostly focused on hitting fastballs and hits them well.  It was predicted that his batting average would fall once he saw AA pitching consistently, but that hasn't come to pass.  There is much debate on whether he has an "arm-bar" swing and whether it will play up in AAA or even the major leagues.  The failure to be more selective with pitches can be a bit concerning.  He makes contact, but could be an even more successful hitter if he was a little more selective at the plate.  This isn't meant to be sobering, of course, but it should be a cold shower to temper your expectations.  He is scouted as an average third basemen with an above average arm.  His range isn't all that great, so that might mean a position change down the line.  Cody Asche is currently making a huge case to stick around at the MLB level.  Whether they keep him at 3B is another story if Franco continues to rise.

Look for Franco, barring a catastrophe, to be in the big leagues by late 2014 or 2015.

Severino Gonzalez, SP, came out of nowhere and snatched up the pitching division of this award due to the overall ineptitude of any of pitcher to stand out.  If you had asked me who would win this award at the beginning of the season, I'd have my money on Jesse Biddle, Adam Morgan, Ethan Martin or even Jonathan Pettibone.  But no; after dominating the Venezuela Summer League in 2011 and 2012, the Phillies decided to debut Gonzalez in Clearwater as a reliever.  He would appear in 11 games before being promoted to a starter in Lakewood after moderate success.  In 4 starts with Lakewood, he would pitch 21 1/3 innings and give up only 4 earned runs on 10 hits and 3 walks.  He would also strike out 31.  This included an 11 strikeout performance in his last start.  This prompted the Phillies to promote him back to Clearwater for 9 starts.  After a rocky first start, Gonzalez would pitch 48 1/3 innings and give up only 13 runs on 45 hits (49 strikeouts). With no more starting opportunities available in Clearwater, Phillies brass were aggressive and sent the 20 year old to Reading for 1 start to close out the season.  All he did was pitch 6 2/3 solid innings of 8 hit, 2 run ball and struck out 6.  This is a kid who had never pitched above VSL before this summer.  It was an impressive debut to say the least.  His final line for the season was: 7 W, 5 L, 103.2 IP, 84 H, 29 R, 23 ER, 5 HR, 22 BB, 119 K, 3 HBP, 2 WP.  That is something to keep an eye on going forward.

The scouting reports for Gonzalez vary in excitement.  Scouts rave about his curveball, which sits in the low 70's.  When Gonzalez has good command of this pitch, he is tough to hit.  The fastball has all sorts of questions behind it, however.  Gonzalez was clocked in as high as 94 in some starts, but in others, he was clocked in the high 80's.  To be successful, he is going to need to sit in the low 90's.  He is young and still has time to build up arm strength.  He has a change and cutter, but those aren't nearly as developed as his curveball.  The command is there, but will need a couple years of consistency and secondary pitch improvement to move up in the system.  There have been comparisons and questions about whether he will be another Julio Rodriguez.  I think it's safe to say that Gonzalez has a couple years to establish himself as more than that before making judgments.  If he gets better fastball velocity and movement, we might have a #3 starter in the wings.

If you are unfortunate lucky enough to attend the Phillies game against the Miami Marlins on September 16th, you will have the privilege of seeing both players honored for their achievements this season.  The Paul Owens Awards, for reference, are named after Paul Owens, the late GM/manager/scout/farm director for the Phillies who spent 48 years in the organization.  Last year's recipients of the awards were 1B/OF Darin Ruf and SP Tyler Cloyd.  Notable recent winners of this award in the past include Domonic Brown (2010), Ryan Howard (2004), Cole Hamels (2003) and Chase Utley (2002).

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