143 games into the season, the Reds decided to promote Juan Francisco. The 22 year old was coming off a stellar 2009 season in which he had a slash line of .295/.329/.518/.847 with 27 homers and a 115/24 K/BB ratio spread over two levels of the minors.
The acquisition of Scott Rolen saves us all from having to watch Francisco hold down the hot corner. In the minors, Francisco posted an absurd 39 errors and scouting reports are dubious as to his defense. He has plus arm strength, but was unlikely to ever be more than Edwin Encarnacion Part Deux on defense.
As of late, Francisco has spent a bit of time in leftfield, so that may be his future destination. Still, it's obviously his bat that will need to carry him at the MLB level. To me, this promotion raises two questions, but first here is a look at Francisco doing what he does best:
Why Francisco instead of Todd Frazier?
I would imagine that the obvious question that leaps to the minds of most Reds fans is why Juan Francisco over Todd Frazier?
There really doesn't seem to be a good answer to that question. Frazier is a year older and as a college player he's quite simply the much more polished prospect. Juan Francisco is a year younger and his overall skill set is much more raw.
Between double-A and triple-A, Francisco has a line of .295/.329/.518/.847, while Frazier has a line of .292/.351/.481/.832. Pretty similar levels of production, so why has Frazier been bounced from defensive position to defensive position and been basically treated like a future utility player, while Francisco plays horrendous defense and still gets the coveted September call-up?
The only thought that leaps to mind is that the Reds value players with one elite skill higher than the "Jack of All Trades, Master of None" type players. Juan Francisco displays true light-tower power, but little else. Todd Frazier lacks flash, but is a very solid, heady ballplayer.
Another example would be the Reds belief that speed demon Willy Taveras is actually a valuable Major League Baseball player. He lacks any other discernible skill, but the Reds love the one elite skill that he possesses.
For better or worse (I'd argue the latter), the Reds seem dazzled by an elite tool to the exclusion of all else. The Reds prefer one elite tool to an overflowing toolbox. Of course, in this case, that leads to Juan Francisco, not Todd Frazier.
What is the future of Francisco in the Reds Organization?
The Scott Rolen acquisition forecloses an option that should have already been ruled out. The idea that Francisco could play a competent third base at the MLB level was unrealistic in the best of times. Now that Rolen is in the mix, Francisco will officially have to be moved to a different position.
As I mentioned in my most recent prospect write up of Francisco, his inevitable slide down the defensive spectrum would reduce the value of his bat. Now that time is upon us and I have questions as to whether his bat can carry him at an offense first position like leftfield or first base. Obviously, first base is occupied by Joey Votto and Yonder Alonso would rank higher up the depth chart than Francisco. And, quite frankly, I have questions as to whether he can be even an average leftfielder. What good does it do to have a potentially above average offensive talent if he gives away all of his above average production with his below average defense?
So, what does the future hold? Are the Reds calling him up because they view him as a viable option in leftfield for 2010? Given that Drew Stubbs and Jay Bruce are going to hold down two of the three outfield slots and Chris Heisey, Jonny Gomes, Chris Dickerson, Willy Taveras, and Joey Votto/Yonder Alonso in the mix for the final slot, that may not be a workable option.
The other option is that the Reds are calling up him simply to showcase him for a potential trade this offseason. This strikes me as the better option. The function of the farm system is to support the Major League club and that can be done by promoting homegrown talent or by trading prospects to acquire pieces that are a better fit for the team's needs.
Given the Reds preference for players with an elite tool and Dusty Baker's previously expressed admiration for Juan Francisco, they are likely giving Francisco a legitimate audition for a starting job in 2010, despite the fact that he might ultimately bring more value to the organization in trade.