CD's Phuture Phillie Phenoms...Dominican Dandy Duo

Martire Franco

The names don't quickly roll off the lips of the average Phillies fan, even the quite knowledgeable ones. They will never be confused with the Gavin Floyd's and Cole Hamels of PhillieLand. Certainly on the radar screen of the team's top prospects they rank far below the major blips of prospects Yet, the names Martire Franco and Rob Tejeda, two hurlers from the city of Bani, D.R. are names worth remembering...the Dominican Dandy Duo.

In style they could not be further apart. Franco was an underappreciated free agent signing, who alienated himself from the organizational braintrust by being older than his announced age when signed. Tejeda, on the other hand, was a major international signing, and has been trumpeted at every turn for his progress or lack thereof.

Franco, is somewhat slight of built at 6' 170 pounds while Tejeda appears very much an imposing sight at 6'3" 188 pounds. Even their pitching reportoire is different, Franco relying on pinpoint control while Tejeda has a fastball that often hits 92-93 MPH. Tejeda is highly thought of, enough to have been placed on the 40 man roster, while Franco was re-signed after being allowed to test free agency as a six year minor league veteran.

Yet in substance they are remarkably similar and both are making their presence felt in the big league camp this spring. Oh, neither has even a remote chance of breaking camp and heading north to Philadelphia, but they will certainly be monitored closely while toiling in Triple A at Scranton. Tejeda is expected to be a starting pitcher with the Barons while Franco may well inherit the closer roll. Given the uncertain health of more than a few of the current Phillie hurlers, both Tejeda and Franco are no more than a phone call from the Philadelphia bullpen.

With this in mind, it seems fitting and proper to introduce the latest Dominican Dandy Duo to an audience that may well wish to remember both of these young right-handers. In an organization that has seen the exodus of no less than a Half-dozen top pitching prospects in the past year both Franco and Tejeda have by necessity moved up in the pecking order of potential major league hurlers.

As the younger, yet more advanced of the two, Tejeda certainly deserves top billing between the two. Signed in 1998 as a precocious 16 year old, Tejeda received in excess of $200,000 to ink a contract with the Phils. Considering that this was a period when the organization seemed almost adverse to offering unproven amatuer talent top bonus money, this signing was significant and well-publicized.

Truth be told, most Latin American scouts hailed this signing as a major coup for the Phils as Tejeda was quite projectable as a future major league hurler. Equipped with a smooth delivery, a crackling fast ball and an improving breaking ball, Robinson Tejeda seemed on the steady, if not fast, track to Philadelphia. His first two seasons, 1999-2000, were spent in the rookie leagues and his 3-8 record belied the improvement and command he displayed both years.

The Phillies deemed him ready for full season baseball in 2001 and he rewarded this confidence with a solid campaign. Although his 8-9 record was nothing to write home about, he pitched 151 innings and struck out an impressive 152 hitters. Even more revealing was that he allowed only 128 hits in over 150 innings of pitching, a very impressive number.

If shoulder surgery for a youngster is now considered a "badge of courage" then Tejeda certainly qualified during the seasons of 2002-03. Plagued with shoulder discomfort, he submitted to arm surgery and pitched less than 180 innings during the two seasons. His 6-15 record again belied the fact that even with an ailing arm he allowed only 143 hits during this period.

Finally healthy in 2004, Tejeda spent the entire season at Reading in the Double-A Eastern League and culminated his comeback campaign with a scintillating 13 strikeout victory to end his year. Pitching for a poor R-Phils club, his 8-14 record again was not a true indication of his skill level. The Phils thought enough of him to place him on the 40 man roster and he has pitched well this spring in Clearwater.

The Phils expect him to help anchor a Scranton staff that may well include the likes of Floyd and Keith Bucktrot. Though the team will not rush him and are prepared to let him pitch the full '05 year with the Barons. Nevertheless, he has opened more than a few eyes with his pitching this spring and if the Phils need a young arm in the starting rotation come September it would not be surprising if Tejeda's name were called.

At any rate, with a staff that could see a 50% turnover by next season, Tejeda's star is certainly on the rise in Phillieland. The same can be said for Franco, though his role is much less defined and his road much less traveled.

Unlike the heralded Tejeda, Martire Franco was signed to much less fanfare in the winter of 1997. At the time, the Phils thought they had uncovered a 17 year old hurler with an arm equipped both for starting and relieving. Though his fastball will never remind anyone of Tejeda's, Franco combined pinpoint control with a solid understanding of pitching into an appealing total package.

The team was understandably excited when Franco dazzled rookie league hitters in 1998-99 to the tune of a 6-2 record, an ERA of around 2.50 and 60 strikeouts in 54 innings of work. Even more impressive were the years 2000-01 when full season work at Piedmont and Clearwater paid off to the tune of a 19-14 record, six complete games and two shutouts. The Phils thought they had uncovered a hidden gem, and still only 21 years of age!

Then, the whispers were being heard of countless players from Latin America using false birth certificates to sign professional contracts. Unfortunately for both Franco and the Phils he was found to be two years older than previously thought. A hurler ready for Double-A at 21 years of age is a gem indeed; at 23 he quickly goes from prospect to suspect.

Franco made the Reading squad as a starting pitcher in 2002 and spent the next year and a half in the rotation as a shell-shocked starter. His ERA was over 5.00 and he seemed on the brink of release when almost in desparation the Phils converted him to the bullpen.

This move seemed a revelation and clearly resurrected Franco's career. Far from being a starter with below average stuff, he quickly became a closer of the first order and finished the 2004 season at Reading with 15 saves in 48 relief appearances. Equally impressive was the fact that he finally was allowing less than one hit per inning, and in 85 innings of work he surrendered only four home runs.

The Phils were faced with a difficult decision to make with Franco and though they did not place him on the 40 man major league roster this winter, the promise of a major league spring with the team was enough to get him to re-sign with the club. This spring he has turned a few heads with his work and is set to work out of the bullpen at Scranton in '05.

It is not inconceivable that Franco will flourish in the closer role with the Barons and with Phillie reliers like Billy Wagner, Tim Worrell, Terry Adams and Rheal Cormier facing uncertain returns to Philadelphia after the '05 season the Phightin's may be in the market for a trusty relief pitcher. If this proves the case, remember the name Martire Franco. His ability to pitch in multiple roles makes him an appealing alternative to the high priced veteran relief pitchers that have seemed to be fancied by GM Ed Wade in the past.

Robinson Tejeda and Martire Franco. Two dissimilar pitchers from the same birthplace. One hailed as a future Phillie phenom since he signed while the assailed for a faulty birth certificate. Yet, in the strange world that is professional baseball both now stand at the doorstep to major league status, one as a starter and the other his trusty relief mate.

The day may come at Citizen's Bank Park when Tejeda and Franco form a standout combination of starter and closer for the Phils. Though not of the ilk of mega prospects like Floyd and Hamels, they both have the talent and the opportunity to make it happen. Yes, in a surprising and unlikely set of circumstances, the Phillies may well be prepared to welcome the latest media darlings...the hurlers from Bani, the Dominican Dandy Duo.

Columnist's Note: Please send all comments and questions to allenariza@earthlink.net and I will respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast

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