Just before the Braves – Phillies game Sunday news broke that the Braves had traded J. J. Hoover for Reds third base prospect Juan Francisco. Carlos gave you his take earlier; he likes the deal and so do I. It’s been reported that GM Frank Wren coveted Francisco for a long time and has been trying to pry him away from Cincinnati without success. His opportunity to land the third sacker came after the Reds had a competition to pick a backup for the aging and often injured third baseman (sound familiar?) Scott Rolen.
Francisco’s opposition for their third base job was Todd Frazier and his own waistline. Francisco reported to camp at 245 up about 60 pounds from last year’s media guide weight of 180. That’s a pretty big jump for a 24 year old athlete. We can assume he wasn’t trying to add bulk for more power because he was already known as a guy with monster power. Last September he hit a tremendous homer – what pros would calll a BIG FLY – completely out of the Great American Ballpark. You can see the video and read about that homer with this link. This spring however he wasn’t making hitting at his usual clip. He went 10 for 51 with a homer and a double equating to a .196 average. His human competition – Frazier – went 15-for-51 with 5 homers and 6 extra-base hits. Frazier also plays first, left and even some second as well as third. That versatility as well as the production meant he was selected and the Reds had a problem. Francisco is out of options so in order to send him back to AAA Louisville he would have to clear waivers. A hitter like Francisco would never do that so the Reds would lose him and get nothing in return. Knowing Wren wanted him they called and the GM got his man in exchange for Hoover. Hoover fills a Reds need for relief help and has options remaining giving them flexibility with their pitching staff.
Power To Spare
Francisco can hit. His minor league numbers are pretty eye watering. Over parts of three years at Louisville his slash was .307/.337/.559 with a BAbip of .352 and an ISO of .295. Yep that’s right. No I didn’t mistype it .295. That’s pretty rarefied territory folks. The only major league players to have a .280 or higher ISO in that same span and over 500 PAs are Jose Bautista (.295) and Albert Pujols (.285). I am not saying Francisco is in their league as a hitter and I’m fully aware that Louisville isn’t the majors but, we’re talking about peer groups here. Feel free to send me names of other 24 year old minor league sluggers in that ISO area. That number and watching his long home run in the above clip make it is easy to understand why Wren said yesterday that Francisco reminds him of Ryan Howard. He shares another attribute with the Phillie’s slugger, he strikes out a lot more than he walks; 5.66 times more often to be exact. His three years in AAA produced 30 walks and 170 Ks. A quick run at the calculator will tell you that means he put the ball in play in 73% of the time and strikes out 23% of the time – that’s significantly less than Howard’s pretty consistent 30% rate but of course it’s also not against major league pitchers. As a point of reference, Freddie Freeman struck out 24.8% of the time last year.
Francisco as one would expect, is particularly hard on right handers with a career .333/.360/.628 slash, 31 homers and 44 doubles against them. During his short stays with the Reds he continued that trend with a line of .301/.351/.497/.847 and a .388 BAbip in 143 at bats. He had only 26 at bats against major league lefties and a line of .192/.222/.192/.415 giving him a line of .284/.331/.450/.781 with a .381 BAbip overall.
As a third baseman Francisco is said to have a plus arm and a solid glove. He shows both off in this clip once again against the Cubs. He’s been relatively healthy though he did have to have his right knee repaired last year; a meniscus tear just like Chippers in July just two months before he hit that monster home run and made the play behind third base shown in the videos.
What This Means For The Braves
I asked Fredi Gonzales about Francisco in a Q&A after the game Sunday. He said that Francisco would have to prove he could play at the major league level to stay. That seems to me a little hollow. Francisco is out of options so if he’s sent down he has to clear waivers and as I said before that isn’t going to happen. The Braves gave up an unspectacular but dependable reliever in J. J. Hoover to get Francisco and I would certainly hope they have every reason to believe and expectation that he will succeed as a big league third baseman. If not shame on them.
From what I could gather listening to Fredi and reading Wren’s quotes the plan is to play Francisco at third when they rest Chipper Jones allowing Prado to play left field almost all the time. I like that. Francisco is better at third than he would ever be learning left field at the major league level. Against tough lefties when Chipper isn’t available (like Johan Santana on Thursday I suspect) you will likely see Prado at third and Matt Diaz in left. I don’t think this will make Prado ecstatic, while saying he’s just excited to be able to play ball he really sees himself as an everyday infielder. He will at least have some positional certainty now instead of bouncing back and forth between left and third randomly. While the move adds pop and changes the threat if Francisco hits as he has shown he can in the past, it also means that when he plays the only right handed bats will be the switch hitting Tyler Pastornicky, Dan Uggla and Prado.
Everyone knows I am not a fan of our GM but I like the deal on paper. Hoover wasn’t likely to become a member of our bullpen and Francisco is a natural third baseman with – as we’ve seen – great range and a cannon for an arm. That should solidify the left side of the infield and take a load of Patsornicky. He has a ton of power and that’s never a bad thing. If we can get him into playing shape and he consistently displays the talent on both sides of the ball that he obviously has, it is a win.
We are still however very left handed. Knowing this the Marlins and Nats added good left handers to their rotation. Within our division we will now see some of baseball’s best lefties – Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Gio Gonzalez, John Lannan, Mark Buerhle and Johan Santana – on a regular basis. The need for a genuine right handed bat with power besides Dan Uggla is real and must eventually be addressed. I hope that the GM continues to pursue solutions to that need.