Friday, April 2, 2010

2010 Top Prospect List: #6 Juan Francisco, 3b

Juan Francisco
Height 6-2, Weight 180, B/T: L/R, DOB: 06/24/1987
2009 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: #9

In last year's write-up, I thought two things would happen with Francisco to drag down his value. First, I thought his skills would require a slide down the defensive spectrum to a less taxing and less valuable position. Second, I thought more advanced pitching would begin to feast on his undisciplined approach and pick him apart. The former is beginning to happen, while the latter has not. Even so, I still believe that Francisco's lack of discipline will drag down his value to the point where he is a borderline asset at an "offense-first" defensive position, while his lack of defensive skills will prevent him from holding down any of the positions higher up on the defensive spectrum. It's a combination of flaws that will continue to hinder his overall value as a prospect.


Somewhat surprisingly, Francisco's 2009 season was his best as a professional. He spent the season splitting time between double-A Carolina and triple-A Louisville, but also received a small cup of coffee at the MLB level in September.

For double-A Carolina, Francisco played in 109 games and collected 464 plate appearances in which he posted a solid slash line of .281/.317/.501/.818 with 22 homeruns and a 91/20 K/BB ratio. His line drive rate was an impressive at 22%, which more than supported his BABIP of .312, which was reasonable and sustainable. Still, it's difficult to envision any player being able to maintain a consistent level of success when posting a 4.3% walk rate and a 19.6% strikeout rate. For the Reds, his performance was more than sufficient to earn him a promotion to triple-A.

For triple-A Louisville, Francisco played in 22 games and collected 99 plate appearances in which he posted an impressive slash line of .359/.384/.598/.982 with 5 homeruns and a 24/4 K/BB ratio. In this smaller sample size, Francisco hit line drives at a 17% rate and posted an absurdly lucky .444 BABIP, which is obviously not sustainable and will regress mightily as the sample size increases.

The Reds were sufficiently impressed by his performance over the two levels that they rewarded him with a September call-up. In the majors, Francisco continued to roll, posting an absurd slash line of .429/.520/.619/1.139 with 1 homerun, 1 double, and a 7/3 K/BB ratio in 25 plate appearances. The sample size is too small to draw any meaningful conclusions, but for what it's worth, Francisco had a 14% line drive rate and another absurd BABIP of .615.

Overall, it was a solid season for Francisco, but one characterized by unsustainable outbursts of productivity and continuing struggles with his plate approach. Even so, it was a season that caught the eye of Dusty Baker, who has never had much use for disciplined hitters or on-base skills. That will make for an interesting 2010 season as Francisco was just selected to open the season in the majors under the watchful eye and toothpick of Dusty Baker.


Despite his hyper-aggressive approach at the plate, Francisco still manages to produce at something resembling a high level. So, obviously, he does have something to recommend him. So, maybe it's time to follow the age old Bill James adage that it's important to focus on what a player does well, rather than what he does poorly.

Francisco has an unorthodox pre-pitch setup. He uses a wide-spread, open stance and a significant bat waggle. He holds his hands up next to his left ear. While waiting on the pitcher, Francisco moves his bat in a circle and also from vertical to down past parallel to the ground. He's got a lot of pre-pitch movement in his stance.

When the hitter starts with such a wide open stance, then the stride must function to close it up. If it doesn't, then there is no way to cock the hips, generate load in the swing, or cover the outer portion of the plate. Francisco starts with a toe tap move towards the plate, which helps him close up his stance and rotate his hips inward. By rotating the front hip inward, Francisco builds rotational energy to power his swing. He also draws his hands down and back into hitting position with a small hitch to get his hands ready to come forward to meet the pitch. He then takes a long stride forward to transfer his weight forward into his final spread out hitting position.

As he commits to the swing, he fires his hips and pulls the bat through the hitting zone. He has good bat speed and gets good extension out through the ball. He has long arms and gets good leverage and loft on the ball, which enables him generate substantial power. He does have some length to his swing and his aggressiveness can result in him lunging at the pitch and getting too far out on the front foot. The length of the swing and his tendency to sell out in his swing leaves him struggling to make contact. Additionally, his bat speed and aggressive swing can cause him to spin off the ball and open up a bit too soon. Still, his extension and bat speed gives him massive power when he manages to make solid contact. Even so, his contact rate and tendency to chase pitches well outside the strikezone may be his undoing.

Here are a couple of looks at Francisco in action:

As for tools, Francisco has two plus tools. He brings both plus power and plus arm strength to the table. His struggles making contact will likely consistently leave him with lower batting averages. His body type and agility will always hinder his speed and defense and the problem will likely only get worse as his continues to mature physically.


The Reds continue to flirt with the idea of Francisco at the hot corner, despite the fact that most observers view that idea as a non-starter. In 2009, Francisco posted a -11 Runs/150 mark for Carolina under the TotalZone metric, which would rate him as a very poor fielder. Even so, the Reds seemingly continue to favor Francisco at the hot corner. Regardless, the addition of Scott Rolen to the team largely precludes the use of Francisco at third, so a position change now seems as necessary as it is inevitable.

Francisco was never likely to be a viable option at thirdbase, as his lateral movement and hands are below average. As a result, Francisco will likely be relegated to leftfield or firstbase where his bat will be less impressive and valuable. Francisco's game changing power may still enable him to carve out a career at an offense-first position, but the drag on his total value created by his poor defensive skills will likely preclude him from ever being an above average player.


Overall, Francisco is still plagued by a combination of attributes that reduce his value. His undisciplined offensive game limits his offensive upside, while his poor agility, speed, and range limit his defensive value. In short, he is probably something of a tweener. His offensive game isn't sufficient to sustain him at an offense-first position, while his defensive skill set isn't sufficient to allow him to travel very far up the defensive spectrum.

Francisco's overly aggressive approach at the plate will still likely leave him susceptible to advanced pitching and his defensive value will continue to be dragged down as he fills out physically and loses even more foot speed and agility.

For now, Francisco's plus power and habit of defying the odds lands him at #6 on the list. Even so, his 2009 performance seems to have been aided by a bit of luck, so some regression should be expected. I have never been all that high on Francisco, but he continues to defy expectations and climb up my prospect rankings. And, Francisco will need to continue defying the odds to ultimately win a starting job in Cincinnati.


  1. His bat will play perfect for utility player, pinch hitters need to hit. I always viewed him as a pinch hit specialist. i don't think he will ever have an everyday job unless there's injuries. Now if he learned how to walk...

  2. o and btw, can you believe they let balentien go? for NIX! wow, not a smart move. I still cant see why they would do that.

  3. Smitty,

    I'm really surprised to see Francisco crack the 25 man. I'm not sure what the benefit is to keeping him on the bench in a limited role, unless they view him as being nothing more than a utility player. Even so, I'd think you'd want to keep him in the minors to play everyday and build/maintain his trade value. By keeping him on the 25 man on a limited playing time basis, the Reds risk stunting whatever development he may have left and completely undercutting his trade value.

    Seems an odd move, but maybe it points to the Reds believing they can win now.

    As for Balentien, I'm a bit surprised. That said, they have a lot of outfield options and may simply have preferred Nix because he hits from the left side. So, ultimately, I don't think we miss Balentien all that much.

    Anyway, thanks for the comment, Smitty.


  4. yea but letting a good defensive outfielder who has plus power and can walk and has tremendous upside and outhit nix and hits righties better than lefties and is out of options just because nix is left handed.. i dont understand it

  5. Smitty,

    Yeah, I tend to agree. I'd keep Balentien over Nix, but in the final analysis I don't think it matters all that much. If either plays a prominent role in Cincy's 2010 season, then it's probably a lost season anyway.

    It's clear that Bruce should be a fixture in right, Stubbs a fixture in center. And, we have Dickerson/Gomes/Francisco on the 25 in the mix for leftfield time. Add in Heisey, Frazier, and others in the minors and we simply don't have much need for either Nix or Balentien.

    Still, Balentien has more upside and was the guy I would have kept. A bit of a headscratcher, but you get those from time to time with Dusty and Jocko. As I recall, last year Dusty referred to Nix as being potentially a "monster" at the plate, so maybe it's not so surprising after all.

    Anyway, thanks for the comment.

    Happy Easter,

  6. happy easter to you as well.

    I guess i just overrate wlad, to me he has much more upside than dickerson/heisey/frazier/gomes/Francisco as a LF.

    I would take him over heisey and dickerson simply because they are centerfielders playing left.

    I Like him over Frazier because he is an infielder and wlad has lf power and probably better defense

    I like him over gomes because i see them with similiar bats but wlad plays much better defense and is younger.

    i like him over juan because he can walk and play defense.

    I guess in my perfect world i see him as a nelson cruz type of player and none of our guys we have now can match that potential. O well, no use worrying about it too much. opening day tomorrow! go reds

  7. Guys, I know this is a Francisco thread but gotta jump in on Balentein. I think the key word with him is potential, he has it but how good are the odds he reaches it, I tend to be pessimistic about him although I never got a real good read on why. Something in that approach/mechanics/overall presence that just wasn't right. Problem is the Reds do believe they are ready to compete and Balentein just wasn't gonna beat out Gomes/Dickerson at this time. Can't reach that potential if you aren't playing regularly. Balentein might technically outproduce Nix from an overall standpoint but it would probably fairly close and whether or not he would outproduce Nix in Dusty's categories/views is what is debatable. Nix also can play CF if need be so there is that also.

    Maybe they get lucky and no one claims him allowing them to get him steady time in Louisville.

    On Francisco I tend to agree with Lark pretty much spot on although I put him lower in my rankings just because that minor league career 6:1 K/BB Ratio has never been overcome by anyone in the history of the game (Wily MO Pena has a 5:1 ratio), 3:1 (Jose Guillen, Alfonso Soriano) is possible but he'd have to go a long, long way to get there. I give him any chance at all because he is still only 23 and I feel pretty confident there is a god so anything is possible. Juan better hope he has been living clean, LOL!


  8. Smitty,

    Interesting to get your take on Balentien. You have a higher opinion of him than I do. I find him to be mildly intriguing. A bit of upside and bit of polish, but I'm just not convinced that he has impact potential.

    In the minors, he was something of an enigma in regard to his plate discipline. At some times and at some levels, he was a free swinger. At other times, he was pretty disciplined and had a strong IsoOBP.

    I'm not sure what to make of him, really. He was, at one time, a highly regarded prospect, but his development seem to stall and stagnate. That said, he still does have some intriguing upside and does have age on his side, but I think he was just a victim of our outfield glut.

    I would certainly have held Balentien over Nix, but given their likely limited playing time, it probably won't matter too much.

    Thanks for the comment!


  9. Will,

    Yeah, I've been pretty rough on Francisco over the past few years and write ups. Still, I can't ignore the fact that he keeps on producing, so he's clawed his way up the ranks a bit.

    I have real concerns about his approach, especially since I don't think it's one that plays all that well at an offense-first position. It works if your total value includes a portion based on your defensive skill, but not as well if it's all about the bat.

    I just think MLB pitchers are too smart and too talented to let him get away with swinging at everything. I still expect pitchers to pick him apart with breaking balls off the plate and splitters in the dirt.

    He still reminds me a bit of Mike Jacobs. A defensive liability relegated to the bottom of the defensive spectrum. A hitter who lacks on-base skills and a good contact rate, but who has plus power and can hit it a long way when he gets a hold of it. Maybe that's selling Francisco short a bit, but that's still what I see right now.

    Anyway, thanks for the comment!


  10. I thought all these prospect reports were suposed to be done by the start of the season.