The Kids on the Farm: Cincinnati Reds' Prospect Juan Francisco

Illya HarrellAnalyst IIDecember 13, 2009

NEW YORK - JULY 13:  Juan Francisco #34 of the Cincinnati Reds and playing for the World Futures Team hits a single against the United States Olympic Team during the 2008 XM All-Star Futures Game at Yankee Stadium on July 13, 2008 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

It's easy to get excited about a 22-year-old prospect who jacked 27 homers between AA and AAA last season.  Especially when, during his September cup of coffee with Cincinnati, and in his second at-bat for the Reds, he blasted one about 30 rows deep over the right field fence of Great American Ball Park.

Juan Francisco, a left-handed batter standing at 6'2" and tipping the scales at 220 pounds, undoubtedly has the body of a power hitter.

Unfortunately for Francisco, but perhaps good for the Reds, his position will probably keep him off the big club.  He is most likely a third or first baseman depending on whether or not the Yonder Alonso at first base/Joey Votto in left field experiment works out.  Sidenote: For Reds' fans grumbling over Jonny Gomes and his not being offered arbitration—the Alonso/Votto experiment is the reason.

So why is this good news for the Reds?

Even though he has led the Reds' minor league system in home runs for each of the last two years, he suffers a major case of Jay Bruce syndrome, striking out way too much. 

In over 1,700 minor league at-bats, he has averaged one K per every 4.06 of them—a pretty hearty sample size. 

As noted, the Reds already have the tremendously overrated left-handed batter, Jay Bruce who fits that bill at the plate.  No way can the lineup afford two batters molded of the same ilk.

Defensively, Francisco has above average range and a canon that would be wasted if he were at first base.  So with Scott Rolen being one-and-done at third, it is wise to give the kid another year down at Louisville to hopefully teach him to make contact.

On the 20-80 scouting scale, his third base skills probably rate a tick above mid-60s.

His power easily grades in the high-60s, more likely low-70s.  If he started next season, there is no reason to think that if given a 550 at-bats he wouldn't hit 32-37 home runs.

Francisco is major league ready as far as power and defense are concerned. 

However, his contact hitting rates mid-30s at best.  Translation: He'd sport a .175 batting average next season while he hits those 32-37 home runs.  

At this point in his career, Francisco would be worse than Jay Bruce.  More like a left-handed version of Wily Mo Pena.

Last season, Francisco spent most of his time (437 ABs) with the Reds' AA affiliate, the Carolina Mudcats.  He only had 92 at-bats during his stint at AAA Louisville before they finished their year and he got the September call to join Cincinnati.

The greatest possible scenario for Juan Francisco and for Reds' fans is to see the kid get a full seasons worth of tutelage under Louisville manager, Rick Sweet, and hitting coach, Smokey Garrett—two of the best in the business.

If that happens, Francisco strikeout ratio could easily drop to one per seven or eight at-bats instead of it's current one per four and without losing any significant power.

In short, if the kid learns to put wood on the ball, Reds' fans will be watching a plus-plus power hitter at third base in 2011 and hopefully for many years to follow.