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.
SWING MECHANICS AND TOOLS
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.
DEFENSE AND POSITIONAL VALUE
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.