After bouncing between three different teams in the last two seasons, it seems like Juan Francisco has finally found a home with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Called up from Triple-A Buffalo after an injury to designated hitter Adam Lind, the 26-year-old Francisco has been surprisingly productive during his time in Toronto.
In 75 at-bats, the Dominican slugger has hit .293/.386/.600 with six home runs, 16 runs driven in and 15 runs scored.
Originally thought to be a platoon player who would only get at-bats against right-handed pitchers, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons has started to use the left-handed-hitting Francisco regularly in the middle of the lineup against both righties and lefties.
Not bad for a player who was cut by the Milwaukee Brewers during spring training and acquired by Toronto on a minor league contract to serve as organizational depth.
Indeed, the Blue Jays have grown so attached to Francisco that they decided not to send him down once Lind returned. Rather, the club has opted to play Francisco at third base while shifting incumbent Brett Lawrie to second base.
So can Francisco really be a core piece for the Blue Jays going forward? Or is this just a hot stretch?
Let’s take a look at his career numbers, which aren’t very promising.
In 855 plate appearances, Francisco has hit .246/.306./.442 with 37 home runs and 123 runs driven in. He’s struck out a whopping 288 times and has just 64 walks during that span.
Francisco has also struggled against left-handed pitchers, hitting just .165/.197/.226 off them. In comparison, he’s hit .260/.325/.479 against right-handers.
So for him to take that next step and become a regular in the lineup, he has to improve his numbers against southpaws and cut down on the strikeouts.
That hasn’t really been the case this season despite his great start. In 20 at-bats against lefties, he’s hit .100/.095/.250. Strikeouts have also been a problem, as he’s struck out 29 times in 72 at-bats.
While it’s still too early to take those 2014 numbers very seriously, the fact that they already fall near his career marks is concerning.
But harping on Francisco’s weaknesses would be greatly underselling what he’s done for the Blue Jays up to this point.
Also working in his favor is the fact that he’s still young and has a chance to shore up his deficiencies with proper coaching and consistent playing time.
Let’s not forget that both Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion also initially came to Toronto as flawed hitters. Now, they’ve both become elite sluggers after making adjustments at the plate and getting an opportunity to play.
Who’s to say that Francisco can’t do the same?
*All stats are from Baseball-Reference.com.