Wednesday, April 28, 2010

2010 Top Prospect List: #1 Yonder Alonso, 1b/lf

Yonder Alonso
Height 6-2, Weight 210, B/T: L/R, DOB: 4/8/1987
2009 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: #1

The Reds selected Yonder Alonso with the 7th overall pick in the 2008 draft. When a team drafts a first baseman in the first round, they are doing it primarily for his bat. To justify drafting a player with minimal positional and defensive value, the player must have an outstanding bat to drive his value. Yonder certainly fit the bill coming out of college, but has yet to really establish that level of performance in the professional ranks.

Still, the Reds are in need of impact offensive talent and Yonder Alonso could ultimately fit the bill...if they can only find a defensive position for him to play.


Yonder spent the 2009 season bouncing around three levels of the minor leagues.

For high-A Sarasota, Yonder played 49 games and piled up 201 plate appearances. He hit .303/.383/.497/.880 with 7 homeruns and a 30/24 K/BB ratio. His BABIP was .333, which seems until you check his strong line drive rate of 29%, which is more than high enough to support such a BABIP. It was also more than enough to earn him a promotion to double-A.

For double-A Carolina, Yonder logged 29 games and compiled 121 plate appearances in which he posted a .295/.372/.457/.829 with 2 homers and a 15/14 K/BB ratio. Once again, Yonder posted a higher than normal BABIP of .330, but once again it was supported by a stellar linedrive rate of 25%.

Yonder was holding his own at double-A when he offered at a pitch, but ended up with a fractured hamate bone instead. He missed roughly a month-and-a-half with the injury and when he returned he took his first hacks in the Gulf Coast League. He had 18 plate appearances in the GCL and posted a .133/.278/.133/.411 with 2 hits and no extra base hits.

Overall, Yonder posted a .292/.374/.464 in 2009. It was solid production, but for a collegiate prospect and one of the most polished hitters in the draft, it was mildly disappointing, especially in light of the performance of fellow draftees Gordon Beckham, Justin Smoak, and others.


Yonder is patient and utilizes a very effective approach at the plate. He controls the strikezone very effectively and shows the rare ability to work deep into counts. His ability to minimize the number of times he forces consequences to at bats on "pitcher's pitches" enables him to effectively tip the probability of success in his favor. He waits for a pitch he likes and makes sure that he doesn't miss it when he gets it. His pitch recognition skill is very strong, as indicated by his remarkably strong K/BB ratio. In addition, he has very good hand-eye coordination, which enables him to make consistent, hard contact.

At the plate, Yonder utilizes a fairly quiet stance. He doesn't have much excess movement while waiting for the pitch. While the stance matters far less than hitting position when the pitch enters the hitting zone, I still prefer a quiet approach.

Yonder is another player who utilizes a very small stride. His stance is wider than shoulder width, so his stride doesn't entail much forward movement. However, it does involve movement towards home plate. Yonder uses a slightly open stance, so his stride operates to close up his body and get into better hitting position.

While waiting for the pitch, Yonder holds his hands a bit higher than most, actually up behind his left ear. This position results in the bat being essentially horizontal to the ground, rather than pointing to the sky like most hitters. He also uses a high back elbow and utilizes a small bat waggle which raises the bat straight up from horizontal towards vertical. The combination of his higher hand position and his high back elbow gives him a bit of additional length to his swing, as it takes him slightly longer to draw his hands back into hitting position so he can properly fire his swing.

When coupled with his higher hand position, Yonder's stride in towards home plate makes him more comfortable driving pitches that are middle away. When a hitter steps towards homeplate to close up his stance, it's often possible for a pitcher to be successful working in on the hands, especially when the hitter has a bit of additional length in the early stages of his swing. Striding in towards the plate and the delay in getting his hands back into hitting position makes it difficult for him to be quick to the ball on pitches on the inner half.

If Yonder can shorten his swing path on inside pitches, it should help unlock his pull power. Regardless, his bat speed and slight uppercut swing generate substantial power. He fires the hips to generate power and gets good extension through the ball.

Yonder's well-rounded hitting skills made him one of the top talents available in the 2008 draft. You can access his draft video here.

Here is a video clip of Yonder at the plate during the Arizona Fall League:

Another thing evident from the video clip is Alonso's physical build. He has a stocky build with heavy, thick legs and something of a barrel chest. He lacks quickness and agility, which shows in his heavy feet and will preclude him from making an impact with his legs.


In drafting Yonder, the Reds selected the best player available, despite the fact that they already had a good young first baseman locked in at the MLB level. He was an interesting draft pick for the Reds in that they had focused primarily on the premier defensive positions in recent drafts, including Drew Stubbs and Devin Mesoraco. In drafting Yonder, they targeted an impact bat, despite lacking a position for him to play.

So far in his professional career, Yonder has played first base. While holding down first base, Yonder has consistently posted "Runs/150" numbers of between +1 and +3 at each stop, which rates him as an average first baseman.

Still, he will always be an "offense first" type player and he likely won't age well, as his body type will slow him down further as he continues to fill out and add weight. Overall, his range will always be limited and playing at any position other than firstbase will likely be unworkable.

Interestingly enough, the plan for Yonder in the 2010 season is for him to shift to leftfield for double-A Carolina. It's too soon for any early returns, but his body type and limited defensive abilities make it a somewhat dubious proposition. Ultimately, Yonder profiles best at firstbase and attempts to shift him to a different defensive position will cut into his total value.

For some reason, the Reds seem hesitant to trade Yonder for a player of similar value, but one who better fits the needs of the organization. If Yonder if forced to play out of position, then his defensive limitations will drag down the value of his bat. To justify playing Yonder in leftfield his bat would have to generate so much production that it would offset the runs given away by his shoddy glove work.

Overall, the Reds would likely be better off playing a better defensive player in left, even if his bat was somewhat less productive than Yonder's.


Alonso remains the most well-rounded hitter in a farm system suddenly flush with pitching prospects. His bat is intriguing and Alonso is just the type of hitter lacking in the Reds lineup. The Reds need more hitters who are disciplined and willing to work deeper into the count. Unfortunately, his main position is already occupied, which ultimately could necessitate a trade.

Given his likely struggles to play a competent leftfield, a trade is probably the best solution. However, that may have to wait until Yonder rebuilds his trade value after the hamate bone fracture sapped his power and production.

For now, his offensive skills are sufficient to land him at #1 on the list.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

2010 Top Prospect List: #2 Todd Frazier, inf/of

Todd Frazier
Height 6-3, Weight 220, B/T: R/R, DOB: 2/12/1986
2009 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: #3

Todd Frazier is one of the more intriguing prospects in the Reds farm system. Oddly enough for one of the top prospects in the system and the game, he is still also something of an enigma. The Reds have yet to really lock Frazier into a position, which gives him an impressive bit of versatility, but also makes him more difficult to value. Positional value and defensive prowess are large components of prospect valuation, but it's difficult to know what to do with Frazier. Do you compare him to second basemen, third basemen, or outfielders? How does he perform defensively at each position? The sample size just isn't large enough to know.

Still, there is no denying Frazier's talent or value, regardless of the position he plays. He should play a central role for the Queen City home 9 for years to come.


Frazier spent the 2009 season splitting time between double-A Carolina and triple-A Louisville. He opened up the campaign at double-A, where he hit .290/.350/.481/.831 in 119 games and 451 ABs. He boasted a 67/42 K/BB ratio, 40 doubles, and 14 homeruns. He ripped line drives at a 24% clip, but performed poorly in the basestealing department, as he was success only 7 out of 15 times. The 14 homeruns were impressive, but the 40 doubles were really impressive and indicate additional power projection in his game. Additionally, his production was legitimate, as his BABIP was .316, which may have even been a bit unlucky in light of his very high line drive rate. His solid overall production earned him a late season promotion to triple-A.

For Louisville, Frazier posted a slash line of .302/.362/.476/.839 in 16 games and 63 ABs. He had a 12/6 K/BB ratio, 5 doubles, and 2 homeruns. Once again, he hit line drives at a stellar 22% clip and was actually more successful in the basestealing department, as he swiped 2 bases in 2 attempts. Once again, his production was legitimate, as his BABIP was reasonable at .347.

Overall, it was a very productive and successful season, as he handled the highest levels of the minors without much difficulty. His linedrive swing enables him to post high averages, should help him avoid lengthy slumps, and also helps explain his massive number of doubles. He can hit the ball with authority and effectively drive it from gap to gap.


Frazier has one of the most unorthodox swings in the system. Fortunately, it is also one of the most effective. The defining characteristic of Frazier's swing is the complete extension of his left arm before the pitch arrives. For comparison sake, below there is a photo of Frazier sandwiched between photos of two of the best right-handed hitters of the modern era.

Edgar Martinez and Albert Pujols are two of the best right-handed hitters of all-time and, not surprisingly, have swings that are very fundamentally sound. On the left, Edgar has just completed his stride and has begun to fire his hips. However, for our purposes, the important thing to look at is his left arm, which is bent at the elbow. On the right, Albert Pujols is in the middle of his stride, which is largely just picking up the front foot and placing it back down. However, as with Edgar, you can see some bend in Pujols' lead elbow. If you look at the photo in the middle, then you can see Todd Frazier in mid-stride with a completely extended lead arm. There is no bend in his lead elbow, as he is basically using an "arm bar" type swing. He's managed to reduce it a bit at the professional level, but it is still very pronounced in his swing.

In addition, his hand position is both lower and farther back than the other two. In order to counteract his different hand position, Frazier utilizes more shoulder and lower body in his swing. His swing is certainly not aesthetically pleasing, but he has the skills to make it highly productive.

Frazier starts with a shoulder-width stance and a small crouch. He holds his hands up by his right ear with the bat almost parallel to the ground. To stay loose while waiting for the pitch he utilizes a small bat waggle. His stride involves a small step forward towards the pitcher. He then breaks down his front leg by rotating up on his toe and significantly turning his knee back in towards the catcher. After the knee is drawn back, he rolls down off his toe and back down onto his foot, which helps move his knee towards the pitcher and transfer his weight to meet the pitch. So, while the plant foot stays grounded after landing from the stride, his front knee is moving significantly, first back towards the catcher and then forward towards the pitcher. It gives him a lot of unique leg action in his swing.

The leg action Frazier incorporates into his swing is done in part to work around his arm-bar and the hand position it creates. To get from his hand position into the hitting position, Frazier has to take a slightly more circuitous approach. The arm-bar makes it difficult to properly fire the swing with the hands and arms, so Frazier has to trigger the swing with lower body action and by pulling the bat with upper body rotation. As a result, Frazier has a more active lower half and more rotational action in his swing than is to be expected.

Once he does trigger the swing, his hands work effectively and enable him to consistently get the barrel of the bat on the ball. He has good hand-eye coordination and strong wrists which help him consistently square up the ball.

The obvious question on this type of swing is whether it prevents the hitter from handling the inside pitches. If the hitter's arms are already extended before contact, then it becomes much more difficult to turn on inside pitches. Good fastballs or biting breaking balls running in on the hands could potentially cause problems for this type of swing. This has been the concern with Frazier since his professional debut, but he continues to defy expectations by having little difficulty with pitches on the inner half. He obviously understands his swing and what he needs to do to make it work for him. Despite the "arm bar" and the work around swing mechanics it necessitates, Frazier continually gets himself into good hitting position in the contact zone, which is the only thing that really matters.

Here is a look at Frazier in action:

Again, comparing Frazier with Pujols (see: photos below), you can see a lot of similarities despite the differences in the early stages of their swings. In the contact zone, their lower bodies are in similar positions and they both keep their head down on the ball. In addition, their hips and shoulders have rotated similar amounts, though Frazier has opened up faster. One potential difference between the two can be seen by comparing the position of the right arm. Pujols is effectively utilizing both arms in his swing, but the position of Frazier's right arm indicates that his swing is driven more by strong shoulder rotation and pulling through with his lead arm. That's especially true on inside pitches, as his "arm bar" swing leaves him little option but to speed up the rotation of his shoulders and spin open to get the bat on the ball.

As of now, the concerns about Frazier's swing are being drastically outweighed by his non-stop production. It's undeniably unorthodox, but style always yields to substance. Frazier continues to get the job done. It's been that way since the Little League World Series all the way through to the professional level and there isn't any reason why it can't continue all the way to the majors.


This is where Frazier remains a bit of a mystery. Typically, versatility is viewed as a good thing. Here, however, it's difficult to properly value Frazier when the Reds have yet to lock him in at a position. Alternatively, the Reds have considered him for first base (37 games), second base (37 games), third base (22 games), shortstop (112 games), and leftfield (91 games). Frazier's impressive baseball acumen enables him to comfortably move all over the diamond.

Frazier has a good, accurate arm with a quick release which plays well both in the infield and the outfield. He doesn't have quick feet or first step quickness, which limits his range at shortstop. He has good speed when he gets underway, which should give him solid range in the outfield. He probably projects best at the hot corner, but Scott Rolen is there for the foreseeable future.

Obviously, the higher up the defensive spectrum he plays, the more value he brings to the table. His versatility is impressive, but it would be nice to see the Reds give him a set position. It would definitely help with his valuation, but his ability to play multiple positions will enable him to fit more seamlessly into the holes of the 25 man roster.


The most impressive part of Frazier's game is undoubtedly his feel for the game. His baseball instincts are tremendous, which is due in large part to playing the game non-stop as a kid and his upbringing in a family of ballplayers. He really understands the finer points of the game and it certainly shows in his play.

Frazier understands what needs to be done and how to do it. He doesn't have the best tools or the most impressive game mechanics, but he is one of the most impressive talents in the system. His instincts really help his tools play up a notch.

In short, Frazier is a ballplayer through and through, which is part of why he lands at #2 on the list.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

2010 Top Prospect List: #4 Travis Wood, lhp

Travis Wood
Height 5-11, Weight 165, B/T: R/L, DOB: 2/6/1987
2009 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: #19

Travis Wood took a huge step forward in 2009, establishing himself as one of the best lefthanded pitching prospects in all of the minor leagues.

In last year's scouting report on Travis Wood, I wrote the following in the conclusion:

"It's not uncommon for young prospects to struggle in their first taste of double-A ball. The competition level is a significant jump from high-A ball, so an adjustment period is only natural. However, Wood will have to demonstrate a better curveball if he is going to find success at double-A. The higher he climbs the ladder, the more varied his repertoire will have to be. He'll need to improve his polish on the breaking ball and maintain the 88-91 mph velocity on his fastball to compliment his stellar change-up, as pitchers have a much more difficult time finding success at the upper level by relying heavily on just one pitch.

It won't take long in 2009 for Wood to reveal whether his 2008 struggles at double-A were the standard struggles of a young prospect or symptomatic of his inability to command an effective breaking ball. Travis Wood still wields the best change-up in the system, but he'll need to show more than that to find
success at double-A next year. For now, he checks in at #19 on the list."

The 2009 season was obviously going to be a significant data point for Wood and, fortunately, it didn't take him long to establish that his true level of performance was substantially higher than he demonstrated in 2008.

At the time, I thought his success was going to be driven by improvements in his curveball. He already had a plus change-up and a solid fastball, but to be an effective starting pitcher he was going to need a third pitch, a breaking ball, to change the hitter's eye level and give him an additional arrow in his quiver.

Of course, Wood's breakthrough to a new performance level actually came about by basically putting the curveball on the back burner. Instead of improving it, he went in an entirely different direction. In its place, he installed a shiny new cutter, which gave him a very effective third offering. Prior to the introduction of the cutter, Wood struggled to keep righthanded hitters from diving out over the plate to attack his fastball and change-up. He had a good fastball and a change-up with late fade, but the introduction of the cutter gave him a pitch to keep righthanded hitters honest. The addition of the cutter gave Wood offspeed pitches that move in each lateral direction. Instead of only having pitches that are straight or fade away from righties, the cutter enabled Wood to attack righthanded hitters with a pitch that broke in on their hands. The addition of the cutter enabled Wood to effectively work both sides of the plate and attack both left and right handed hitters.


In 2009, Wood was remarkable over two different levels. He started out in double-A Carolina, where he posted a 1.21 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and 103/37 K/BB ratio in 119.0 innings and 19 starts. He had strong ratios, including a 2.8 BB/9 and a 7.8 K/9, which is a nice blend of power and control. His ERA was ridiculous and probably a touch lucky, as he boasted a .246 BABIP, 2.65 FIP, and most alarmingly an 82.8% strand rate.

If ever a performance warranted a promotion, it was Wood's. And, the Reds promoted him to triple-A Louisville to finish out the season. For Louisville, Wood posted a 3.14 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and a 32/16 K/BB ratio. His ratios weren't quite as strong as they were in double-A, as evidenced by his 5.9 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9. His component stats regressed somewhat, as seen in his .273 BABIP, 3.96 FIP, and 79% strand rate.

Wood was one of the minor league leaders in ERA throughout the season, which was impressive given the large sample size, but also probably unsustainable in light of his overblown strand rate. Wood stranded runners at a much higher rate than is to be expected. Even so, it was a massive step forward for Wood who also managed to log a career high of 167.2 innings pitched. Unfortunately, Wood has neutral flyball/groundball tendencies, as evidenced by his 0.98 GB/FB ratio in 2009. Obviously, he would benefit by generating more groundballs in Great American Ballpark, but he may not have the repertoire to do it.


Wood still possesses the best change-up in the system, but his fastball velocity has never returned to the consistent 93-94 mph it attained in high school and his breaking ball continues to be inconsistent. His fastball sits in the 88-91 mph range, which should be sufficient for a southpaw to be successful at the highest level. Wood is still trying to refine his curveball, which can roll and stay up coming out of his hand. That said, Wood does possess a top notch change-up, which is one of the best weapons a pitcher can possess. The change-up is a true pitcher's pitch and one that fewer pitchers actually master than one might expect. It's one thing for a pitcher to succeed just by reaching back and cutting a good fastball loose, but it's an entirely other thing for a pitcher to succeed by changing speeds and hitting his spots. The former is typically a thrower, while the latter is a pitcher. Wood features a circle-change that breaks down and away from right-handed hitters, which may make it a nice weapon for combating a heavy platoon split. And, of course, the newest addition to his arsenal is the biting cutter that he can command effectively inside the strikezone.

Wood possesses good, clean mechanics. His wind-up is carried out at a faster tempo than average, but it's not a concern because he manages to keep his body in sync. Here are some frames of his wind-up courtesy of "mwlguide:"

In frame 1, he starts off in a pretty standard ready position.

In frame 2, you can see that he begins his windup with the small side-step that is popular in the modern game, rather than the step back towards second. And, as to be expected, the small side-step is accompanied by bringing the glove to the chest (which you can also see in frame 2) and not over the head like in the good the old days. In frame 3, he is beginning his leg kick and demonstrates good body control and balance.

In frame 4, you can see the nice high leg kick, the good body coil, the toe pointed to the ground, and how he has effectively created energy while maintaining his body over his plant leg. Note back in frame 3 how the line of his hips runs basically from 2nd base to home plate, while in frame 4 the line of his hips runs almost from 3rd base to 1st base. The high leg kick and coiling of the body enables him to store up energy to later impart on the baseball. In frame 5, he has already broken his hands and started driving to the plate. He is hiding the ball well, which increases his deception as it increases the difficulty of the hitter in picking up the baseball.

In frame 6, he has driven off the mound and released the pitch. He gets good extension in his arm action. He hasn't thrown against a stiff leg, which allows in frame 7 for his upper body to finish over his glove side leg. His body is squared up and he finishes in good fielding position.

In last year's scouting report, I wrote that one mechanical issue with Wood was his occasional tendency to pitch against a stiff glove side leg. Instead of getting out over the top of his plant foot, he occasionally throws against it, which results in his upper body being pushed back towards the rubber. You can see the difference in these two photos:

In photo 1, Wood has a bit more flex in the knee and he is able to get out over his front leg. However, in photo 2, you can see how he throws against a stiff glove side leg. Given the position of the glove side leg in photo 2, it will be very difficult for his momentum to carry his upper body out over the top of his legs. The stiff plant leg leaves no other option than to pitch against his leg. His momentum will not get out over the top of his legs, but rather will be checked and pushed back towards second base by the stiff plant leg. Not only may it lead to inconsistency in his pitches, but it may also increase the stress on his body, as pitching against a stiff leg is a bit jarring and the body won't be able to absorb or distribute the shock very well. He may be advised to shorten up his stride a bit, as throwing against a stiff front leg and failing to get out over your plant foot is often the result of over-striding.

Again, you can see his MLB scouting video here. Here is another look at Wood in action, courtesy of TheBamaone on YouTube:

Overall, as you can see, Wood has smooth and efficient mechanics. A few things that jump out at me in this video. First, the video better illustrates how he coils his leg kick to create potential energy. Second, his arm action is very smooth and easy. He's not a max effort pitcher and his arm action isn't herky-jerky. Finally, his body control is strong. He has good balance and never seems out of sync, as evidenced by his consistently strong finishing position.

One potential cause for concern, however, is Wood's slight build. He's only 5-11 and weighs in at 166 lbs. Given his height, he is not going to be able to pitch on a downward plane, which isn't ideal because his fastball only sits in the 88-91 mph range as it is. So, he may have to work harder to maintain acceptable velocity. It may benefit Wood to add more strength to his lower body, as that may help take some strain off of his arm and potential give him a tick or two more velocity on his fastball. The best and most efficient pitchers throw with their entire body, not just their arm. While Wood does a nice job coiling up his body and driving off the mound, increased lower body strength may lower his risk of an arm injury.


Travis Wood took a big step forward in 2009 and his emergence gives the Reds a stable of quality pitching prospects that they have had in as long as I can remember. He lost out in the Spring Training battle for the 5th spot in the rotation to Mike Leake, so he'll head back to triple-A in hopes of winning a role in the majors. Ultimately, Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo are likely finishing up their respective Reds careers, as both contracts expire after the 2010 season. The Reds hold a team option of $12.75M on Harang and $11M on Arroyo, but given their mediocrity and the wealth of cost-effective young pitching, it's difficult to imagine the team exercising either option.

Overall, the addition of the cut-fastball has made Wood a much more intriguing and legitimate pitching prospect. It remains to be seen if he has "enough stuff" to succeed at the MLB level, but a bit more development time should help him continue polishing his skills. As of now, many scouts still view Wood as having a ceiling of only a #4/5 starter, despite his awesome numbers in 2009. Regardless, Wood continues to strive to get better, as he spent the offseason working out with fellow Arkansas native Cliff Lee, which may have given Wood an extra boost of confidence and a greater understanding of what it takes to succeed at the highest level. Wood called Lee a "mentor" and he'd be hard pressed to find a better one. The Reds haven't had an effective southpaw in the MLB rotation in quite a while, but Wood and Chapman will be looking to change that in the near future.

Wood's cutter and stellar 2009 season are enough to land him at #4 on the list. I've always appreciated Wood's change-up and mechanics, but it's the cutter that could make all the difference for him.

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.