Atlanta Braves third baseman Juan Francisco in a spring training fight with Chris Johnson for the starting job. Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Braves Third Base Duel Update


A few days ago I posted my take on the third base duel between Chris Johnson and Juan Francisco about to begin in Spring Training. I suggested that the loser of the duel might well find himself a permanent bench player. Today I saw a post by Jim Bowden on ESPN (Insider Required) about 10 players for whom this spring may be a make or break year.  Number eight on the list was Francisco. According to Bowden:

Francisco has tremendous power from the left side, but two big questions remain: Will he make enough contact to make the power usable, and can he develop enough defensively to be the Braves long-term answer at third base? He’s competing with newly acquired Chris Johnson, a competition that in all likelihood will lead to a platoon. If Francisco falters, general manager Frank Wren will not hesitate to inquire about the Padres’  Chase Headley or talk to any other team that has a possible long-term solution for the Braves.

Chris Johnson is in a far worse position than Francisco if he doesn’t grab the job this spring. He’s older and after having the 3B job given to him at two clubs he hasn’t been able to hold it. Francisco is still young and has never had that kind of chance so I expect him to get a prolonged look. He also has the kind of power that makes a GM’s eyes grow wide with anticipation and plays a better third base than many.  The other factor is the current state of the Braves minor league system.

While GM Frank Wren may inquire about Headley he has little to offer that would entice the Padres to part with him. The minors are bare of prospect level everyday player talent and the much touted Braves pitching depth is today a fallacy.  The Braves are more likely to  go forward with Francisco or Johnson this season and rely on the rest of the bats to carry the offense. As I noted in my prior post, Francisco’s defense improved last year after working with Pendleton and Jones and with his hitting performance in winter ball I expect him to get the everyday nod. While Fredi Gonzalez might do it simply because everyone expects it,  Johnson’s lefty split isn’t good enough to make a platoon that costs Francisco at bats that might help him gain experience  hitting lefties.

That’s A Wrap

I tried to post a comment on the ESPN blog but apparently paying for a subscription only entitles you to post a comment if you want it to appear on Facebook as well.  While I am on FB I rarely if ever sign in there so doing that to post a comment on the ESPN irked me. As a result they don’t get the benefit of my insight but you dear readers do. See how special you are!

 

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  • http://atlantabullpen.com/ Jim Hart

    Good article but have to disagree with you, Fred. I think Johnson gets the nod and Francisco is the lefty bat off the bench, assuming the Eric Hinske role. When you have the chance, please stop over at http://AtlantaBullpen.com and let us know what you think. Go Braves!

    • fireboss

      Francisco off the bench is no good at all. A look at his history tells you that he has to play consistently to get in a hitting groove.Using him off the bench condemns him to another hit or miss season. He’s a better fielder with a better arm than Johnson doesn’t move to his right well at all. Pectoa projects Johnson to have similar numbers to Juan but gives Francisco the edge in homers and RBI. I believe they plan to use Johnson as a RH Pinch hitter and backup 1B. He’s not faster, a better fielder or a better hitter than Francisco. My Money is still on Juan.

      • http://atlantabullpen.com/ Jim Hart

        Francisco isn’t a great option off the bench, but if he doesn’t start, he is an option the Braves will have to use, due to nothing better. His weight, conditioning, and commitment have always been an issue, and despite optimistic talk about his off season, the Braves are not happy with the shape that he came into camp. Even if he does get the nod, I think he is a pulled hamstring or other nagging injury waiting to happen. Johnson has at least proven that he can be a regular, and be reasonably productive at the plate. Francisco hasn’t really proven much of anything. I think the chances are high that the Braves will make a trade and bring in someone else at some point during the season. A veteran with an average bat with a good glove.

        • fireboss

          You don’t like Francisco do you? :) I’m not for or against him or Johnson, I just try to present the situation as I see it. To your point:

          I’ve seen no reports contradicting Dave O’Brien’s post that Francisco was noticeably slimmer and in better shape during the closing days of the winter league. I’d like to read any report that I’m not aware of, I like to learn as much as i can about the Braves players.

          .Francisco hasn’t had the chance afforded to Johnson to prove anything in the majors, he’s always been behind Scot Rolen or Chipper Jones. Bill James has repeatedly pointed out that minor league performance counts however and Francisco’s minor league performance indicates that when he plays regularly he’s an offensive force. I wrote about that in my first post about the third base opening a few weeks ago. http://tomahawktake.com/2013/02/05/braves-spring-training-third-base-duel/ you can find the numbers and rationale there.

          Francisco has had a couple of calf and thigh strains but he’s lighter and theoretically fitter now. He might still be injured this year but so might Johnson. His injury history is lat and intercostal related but more frequent that Francisco’s. I don’t see that he’s any safer a bet to stay healthy.

          Johnson strikes out as much as Francisco but retains a higher batting average and OBP largely due to a BABIP of .347. If Johnson’s BAbip drops back to something more resembling his hit tool he becomes an a less powerful, less mobile, 3 year older version of Francisco.

          You may be correct and Johnson may earn the job but it’s at least on paper Francisco’s to lose. As to trading for a veteran 3B bat mid year there are issues with that option as well. First and foremost we have little to trade that has a high enough value to bring a significantly better player in. Additionally the third base market is very thin as witnessed by the Phillies trading for Michael young who’s no longer even an average third baseman. Any trade material we might have will probably be needed for a starting pitcher. We are very shallow there and will certainly run into an injury issue at some point this year. Gilmartin isn’t ready but might get a spot start. If the issue drags on a trade would be needed. Finally whether Francisco or Johnson is our third baseman this year won;t decide our post season play. We have the bats to win with an average third baseman and the projected numbers of either player. Starting pitching will be the key. But , that’s another post

          • http://atlantabullpen.com/ Jim Hart

            We’ll see if Francisco becomes an offensive force playing regularly in Milwaukee, Didn’t happen in Atlanta, maybe he can salvage his career in Brew Town.