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Bernie Pleskoff's Minor League Report: Free Swinger with Game-Changing Power

Bernie Pleskoff

Bernie Pleskoff is a former professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners.

In the past two weeks I have written about Cincinnati Reds prospects Yonder Alonso and Todd Frazier. Both are highly thought of by the Reds' administration, play corner infield positions, and are currently blocked from joining the major league Reds by the presence of first baseman Joey Votto and third baseman Scott Rolen. A case can be made for either of those star quality players to be the Most Valuable Player in the National League. Particularly Votto.

Another major prospect is waiting in the wings to make the major league roster in Cincinnati. Juan Ramon Francisco just might be the best of the corner-infield prospect trio that includes Alonso and Frazier.

Francisco has the most raw power of any of the three major offensive prospects noted in my reports. Consider that in his 2009 season that was split between Double-A Carolina (437 at-bats) and Triple-A Louisville (92 at-bats), Francisco smacked 27 home runs. Those power numbers will make any front office sit up and take notice.

As a matter of fact, Francisco was called up to the Reds in September where he went 9-for-21 (.429) with a home run.

The stage was set for Francisco to climb the ladder and make his way to the big club as the third baseman of the future, but not so fast.

Rolen proved so valuable that his contract was extended. Francisco, after having a very mediocre April began to hit in May at Triple-A Louisville. But then, he had an emergency appendectomy and missed most of May and some of June. It is only recently that Francisco has found his stroke again. To that end, he hit three home runs in two games as the second half opened. As of this writing, Francisco is hitting a solid .280 in 53 games covering 211 at-bats. He has 11 home runs and has driven in 36 runs. However, along with the good there is some bad. Juan Francisco has struck out 54 times while drawing only 10 walks Ė a terrible ratio. Striking out 25 percent of the time against minor league pitching will also make the front office sit up and take notice.
Francisco was an international free agent signed by the Reds out of the Dominican Republic in 2004. To date, Francisco has played at every level of the Reds' organization. He has shown the same power as consistently as he has shown the propensity to strike out.

When Francisco was signed, he was a switch hitter. However, he gave up hitting right-handed in 2009. His split statistics this season are reflective of his hitting prowess against righties. He is hitting .317 against right-handed pitchers and only .203 against lefties. Overall, his line is .280/.316/.540.

Francisco turned 23 years old in June, and he looks much bigger than his 180 listed weight. Heís 6-foot-2 and he looks to be much closer to 200-plus pounds thanks to a bulky body with a strong and muscular physique. That body type calls for caution in staying fit and in condition. Francisco projects as a type of hitter with the capability of gaining weight and losing fitness if he isnít careful. However, limited range and agility have not been a concern to this point. To the contrary, Francisco has flashed good footwork and quickness to the ball at third base that belies his size. To be sure, there is absolutely no question about the strength and accuracy of his arm, as Francisco has a cannon of an arm from third.

In short, Franciscoís two best tools are power and arm strength. Both are above major league average for an everyday player (meaning above a 50 on the 20-80 professional baseball grading scale.) Especially the power. He is not fast, and he isnít quick on the bases either. Again, that fits the profile of most corner playing power hitters.

Given his high strikeout rate, Francisco may not hit for a high major league average. However, he could be more than a .265 hitter if he improves his selectivity, and pitch recognition, as lack of plate discipline is his greatest criticism. His swing is long and somewhat loopy, which is not uncommon for a power hitter. If he could refine that plate discipline and put more balls in play, there is no telling what he could hit at the big league level.

Franciscoís path to the major leagues with the Reds is not unlike their other prospects profiled before. He has to wait for an opening at either third base or in the outfield. Consider that Joey Votto is firmly entrenched at first base and Scott Rolen is signed thru 2012. One can easily see the situation in which Francisco finds himself. If the Reds even think of moving Rolen they would be removing a team leader that has set the tone and created a role model for the young, achieving club. It is unlikely Francisco can play first base even if the team wanted to move Votto to left, which is highly illogical. If the Reds are anything, they are usually logical. How about Francisco in left? Jonny Gomes has been solid, but heís getting expensive. The Reds are loaded with young outfield types with Chris Dickerson, Drew Stubbs, Chris Heisey, and Jay Bruce. But Francisco could certainly take over for Gomes in left if the Reds are so inclined. What would that mean to the club?

First and foremost, the team already suffers with Jay Bruceís low contact rate in right field. He has struck out 26 percent of the time this season (85 K in 327 at-bats.) That percentage is almost identical to that of Francisco in Triple-A. It may be more strikeouts than the Reds can accept in the lineup when Votto is at 23 percent himself. But Rolen has struck out only 49 times in 286 at-bats for a 17 percent rate. Those stats are all critical among the equations that help comprise the Reds' roster. Stubbs has both power and speed, commodities that are highly favorable on any club. Heisey is a pure hitter with power and speed as well. In fact, he is really a true five-tool player. Dickerson thought he was the center fielder when the season began, but injuries, Stubbs and the Reds' brass took their toll on his chances to play regularly. Bruce has never really lived up to the enormous hype with which he entered the big leagues. He does hit long home runs, but they come in spurts.

So what to do with a free- swinging, potential power hitter that plays a position already well covered on the big league club? Where does Francisco fit in the scheme of things? Especially with Frazier and Alonso also in the same team photo. Thatís why I have spent these three profiles on Reds prospects.

To me, Francisco has the most upside among the group. This season Francisco has played five games in left, three games at first, 40 at third and five as the designated hitter. I would play him more in left field at Triple-A (splitting his time between left and third base), as I believe thatís the best mix for Francisco and the club at this point. Give him some experience in the event you can move Gomes. But make no mistake, of all the young Reds outfielders, I still like Heisey the best of the lot. I also like Stubbs. Crowded picture here, right? Frazier and Alonso are in the outfield mix only because of the existing corner infield Reds players at the big league level. Thatís why each of the prospects has had some trial games in the outfield.

The other option for the prospect trio is to include one or more of the prospects in a trade. A package that included Alonso was discussed before Cliff Lee went to Seattle. Other teams are looking for help at first base, third base and the outfield. Some feel the Reds need a center fielder better than Stubbs or Dickerson. And on it goes.

Bottom line - the Reds are loaded with prospects and they have no place to play them yet on the big league roster. Itís a tremendous situation, especially before the July trade deadline. Alonso, Frazier and Francisco are each quality players with upside. The Reds have unmet needs on their big league club. So now we wait. I suggest you consider each of these potential big league players as fantasy options. Again, I think Francisco has the biggest power upside. Alonso is second on that list. Frazier has had a bad 2010 season, but it's his only bad season as a pro. Heís a good hitter and an average overall player with value.

Juan Francisco will get you those home runs if you have patience to keep him stashed away long term and wait for him to end up in a situation where he can play regularly at the big league level. However, expect him to strike out in the process.