The Brewers sparked a bit of excitement throughout the fan base on Monday morning. They announced the promotion of second baseman Scooter Gennett to the big leagues, and comments from general manager Doug Melvin indicate that he should see (at least) semi-regular at-bats in the coming weeks.
While the Gennett-Weeks story is certainly intriguing in its own right, the Brewers also rolled the dice an acquired young slugger Juan Francisco from Atlanta in return for left-handed reliever Thomas Keeling. He’s expected to split time with Yuniesky Betancourt at first base until Corey Hart returns from his injury later this month.
Francisco reminds me of Carlos Gomez in many ways.
Like Gomez, he was once a highly-regarded prospect in the Cincinnati Reds’ farm system with loads of tools at the plate. Baseball America ranked him as their seventh-best prospect in 2011, and he was named the “Best Power Hitter” in the organization. Also like Gomez, the Reds rushed him to the majors and it likely hindered his development as a player. He made his big-league debut at age 22 and was subsequently bounced between Triple-A and the major leagues for the next couple years.
His production at the plate hasn’t matched his tremendous tools. He’s a career .254/.299/.431 hitter with a .316 wOBA in 501 plate appearances over five years. He strikes out a ton, posts poor batting averages and rarely walks. Then, the young man from the Dominican Republic will occasionally launch a jaw-dropping home run that serves as a stark reminder of his raw ability.
Check out this home run he hit with the Cincinnati Reds. It clears the entire ballpark.
That type of pure power is rare, and when the Brewers saw an opportunity to acquire Francisco for a fringe relief prospect, they pulled the trigger. The organization now hopes to play Francisco at first base — perhaps in a platoon role — with Yuniesky Betancourt until Hart completes his rehab.
The Brewers are well-aware of their new asset’s limitations at the plate. He possesses a very long swing and poor plate discipline, which results in a prodigious strikeout rate. In fact, in the past two years, Juan Francisco owns the fourth-highest strikeout rate of any major-league player who has accumulated at least 300 plate appearances.
His strikeout rate and inability to make consistent contact with the baseball are the largest reasons he’s only hit .237/.281/.420 in the last two seasons with Atlanta. He has 14 home runs in only 320 plate appearances, but that’s paired with a ridiculous 113 strikeouts over that same time frame. Power is phenomenal. That power has to be paired with a good enough hit-tool to make the power matter, though, and Francisco just hasn’t shown that the past two years.
He struggles to recognize offspeed pitches and has seen big-league pitchers avoid giving him anything straight to hit. In the same two-season time frame mentioned before, Francisco has seen the fourth-lowest percentage of fastballs of anyone in the league.
To get more fastballs and better pitches to hit, Francisco has to either prove that he can handle offspeed pitches or prove he can lay off pitches out of the strike zone. That will better allow his massive power play at the plate.
Earlier, I mentioned Juan Francisco reminded me of Carlos Gomez. Both are players with enviable tools who struggled tremendously at the plate. Remember, Gomez was a career .243/.291/.357 hitter coming into his age-26 season — much like Juan Francisco this season. The Brewers were patient with Gomez and things have blossomed beautifully for the young center fielder as he’s entering the prime of his career.
The Brewers are crossing their fingers that they hit the jackpot twice. They fully understand Juan Francisco has been borderline unrosterable in the last couple seasons — especially because he lacks skills with the glove — but the organization hopes he matures at the plate like Gomez, if given the opportunity for regular at-bats.
Sure, Francisco is a lottery ticket with obscenely low odds of a lucrative payout. It was an inexpensive lottery ticket, though, and the possibility for such a high reward certainly justifies the low cost. Especially when the organization’s other options at first base were Yuniesky Betancourt and Alex Gonzalez.