Cincinnati Reds: Is Now the Time for Juan Francisco?

Diamond NotesCorrespondent IIIOctober 18, 2011

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 24:  Juan Francisco #25 of the Cincinnati Reds looks on against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the game on September 24, 2011 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

On July 31, 2009, the Cincinnati Reds acquired Scott Rolen for Edwin Encarnacion and a minor league player.

Rolen has performed well for the Reds, leading them to a division title in 2010. In parts of three seasons with the Reds, he has batted .270 with 28 home runs and 143 RBI in 238 games.

Rolen is under contract for 2012 at a base salary of $6.5 million. However, he has been injury prone, and he had surgery to clean out his left shoulder in early August 2011.

The question is, has this latest injury opened the door for power-hitting youngster Juan Francisco?

Francisco has demonstrated a powerful bat, most notably on September 12, 2011, when he hit a 502-foot shot out of The Great American Ball Park against Chicago Cubs pitcher Rodrigo Lopez.

This past spring, Reds manager Dusty Baker appeared very high on Francisco. Jon Fay of wrote in his article "Long gone Juan" that Baker said:

"In my mind, he's very important. You can see the potential and what's in there. It's just (a) matter of him -- if he can get a good pitch to him most of the time -- he's going (to) really hit. Most of the time when he's out, they trick him on bad pitches."

Baker admitted that Francisco has the ability to make pitchers pay for some of the bad pitches:

"To his credit, he can do damage on some of the bad pitches. It depends on how bad they are. He's been knocking on the door for a while," Baker said.

Francisco's hard work has paid off. He looked much better at third base in 2011 and is being considered as the Reds 2012 starting third baseman.

The drawback on Francisco is he is a free swinger (striking out every 3.3 at bats), and his defense has been a question. However, Fay wrote that Baker indicated Francisco is working on his defense:

"He's been working hard," Baker said, "His defense is a lot better. His footwork is better. He probably has the strongest arm on the team."

 Francisco is knocking at the door. Is 2012 the time for Baker to open it?