A few days before Christmas, the Brewers opened up a spot on their 40-man roster by sending Michael Olmsted outright to Nashville. Olmsted made a strong impression during last year’s spring training but couldn’t get traction in AAA. In 52.1 IP for Nashville, Olmsted managed a 6.71 ERA. Eventually, Olmsted’s struggles earned him a trip to AA to get back on track.
With a spot on the 40-man roster now up for grabs, the Brewers are prepared to make a move. Whether it’s for a first baseman or relief pitcher, their two main areas of need, is still to be seen. But, until we know who will fill that slot, the Brewers’ primary first baseman for 2014 appears to be Juan Francisco. Like it or not, Brewers’ fans.
Juan Francisco’s finish to the 2013 season was far from pretty. In September, he hit for a .121 AVG / .346 OPS / .030 ISO and struck out 44.4% of the time. Not the type of numbers Brewers’ fans would hope to see from the frontrunner to play first base in 2014. The slump forced Ron Roenicke and hitting coach Johnny Narron to work with Francisco on eliminating the large leg kick from his swing. Francisco debuted his new stance during the last week of the season then was sent packing to play winter ball for the Tigres del Licey in the Dominican Winter League. So how has Francisco and his new stance performed over the off-season?
Well, the good news is that Francisco did not lead the Dominican Winter League in strikeouts. He was only tied for second with 42 Ks in 150 ABs during their regular season. That’s a strikeout percentage of roughly 25 K%. (Since K% is calculated SO/PA, instead of ABs, I added Francisco’s 11 BB and 5 IBB to his 150 AB for the calculation. The stat sheet for the Dominican Winter League didn’t include HBP, which would also factor into the K% equation. Thus, my use of the term “roughly”.)
Over the 40 games that Juan Francisco played in the Dominican Winter League regular season, he managed a .260 AVG / .725 OPS with 13 R / 9 2B / 1 3B / 3 HR / 23 RBIs. While his winter league batting average was in improvement upon the .227 AVG he posted last season in the big leagues, his winter league .725 OPS was only mere points higher then the .719 OPS accumulated between the Braves and Brewers.
The Dominican Winter League regular season ended on December 22 and is now engulfed in the round robin portion of the playoffs. Since entering the round robin, Juan Francisco has shown exactly why he is such an intriguing bat for the Brewers. In eight playoff games, Francisco has hit .269 AVG / 1.156 OPS with 6 R / 1 2B / 4 HR / 10 RBIs. He has also struck out six times while drawing five walks.
It would be a reach to say Francisco has figured it out and that the new batting stance is paying off, if Francisco is even still using the new batting stance. I’m just looking at numbers and box scores, not video. Francisco’s solid numbers over eight games and 26 ABs screams small sample size but also shows the damage he can do when locked it. Four HR and 10 RBIs over eight games are impressive numbers, especially with power being a premium at the major league level. But the best stats to show that Francisco is locked in, during this eight game stretch, are his six strikeouts to five walks. Simply, he’ll never get pitches to pound in the zone until he proves he won’t chase pitches out of the zone.
From the moment the Brewers traded for Francisco, J.P. Breen called him a lottery ticket. Since then the team has seen him in action and proactively worked to right his wrongs. But whether any of it leads to a big payoff is still to be seen. Every day that passes without the Brewers signing or trading for another first baseman brings the team a step closer to crossing their fingers and hoping to hit the first base jackpot in 2014.