Francisco Moving Along With Aggressive Approach

SARASOTA, Fla.—Reds prospect Juan Francisco, a 20-year-old, power-hitting third baseman with a plus arm, has drawn just three walks in 43 games this season. But Reds farm director Terry Reynolds is not overly concerned about Francisco's lopsided 47-3 strikeout-walk ratio.

"You can't hit it if you don't swing it," Reynolds said.

And Francisco can hit it.

Last year, he led the low Class A Midwest League with 25 home runs, finished second in total bases (247), third in hits (143) and fourth in RBIs (90). He also ranked second among all Reds minor leaguers in home runs and RBIs. He batted .316 with runners in scoring position, earning the right to start at third base in the Midwest League's all-star game.

This year, at high Class A Sarasota, Franciso was hitting .301/.310/.508 with eight home runs, 14 doubles and 34 RBIs.  
But despite all the positive numbers, Francisco—the No. 8 prospect in the Reds organization—said he takes seriously his poor walk ratio.

"What they say about me is the truth," Francisco, born in Bonao, Dominican Republic, said in Spanish. "I want to improve. I am aggressive, but I need to be aggressive and under control."

Francisco Liriano would probably have preferred if his fellow Dominican had taken a few walks when they faced each other on Opening Day 2008.

Liriano, one of the most dominant pitchers in the majors in 2006 when he went 12-3, 2.19, missed all of 2007 after Tommy John surgery. The Twins star, on a rehab assignment with Fort Myers to start this season, struck out eight Reds in five innings. All batters not named Francisco went 3-for-16 against Liriano. But Francisco went 3-for-3 against him—all doubles.

"I was really focused because I knew he was a major leaguer," Francisco said.  "I also wanted to show I could hit a lefty pitcher."

Slugging From The Start

The 6-foot-2, 235-pound lefthanded-hitting Francisco is the third of four children and said he grew up poor but never lacking for the essentials. At age 16, his baseball skills earned him a $60,000 bonus from the Reds.

"My family was overjoyed," he said. "They are humble, hard-working people."

As a kid, Francisco was a Red Sox fan and admired their Dominican sluggers, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz.

"I like Manny because there doesn't seem to be any way to get him out—he has no holes," Francisco said. "And I like Ortiz because he is a lefty with power, like me."
Francisco, of course, has a long way to go to catch up to those famed sluggers. Last year in Dayton, Francisco struck out 161 times and drew just 23 walks.

"He definitely needs work on his plate discipline," Reynolds said. "That is something we are working on with him every day."

Still, Reynolds said Francisco is "on track" to be considered for a promotion to Double-A next year.

"Juan has made progress at every stop," Reynolds said. "He has two outstanding tools—his raw power and his arm strength. If he continues to develop, he should have a good chance to play in the major leagues."

Sarasota manager Joe Ayrault said the attribute he most admires in Francisco's game is his ability to hit with power to all fields.

"Juan puts on some incredible displays in batting practice," Ayrault said. "He is not a guy who will just lock in on a ball inside so he can pull it. He will go with the pitch. Every time he comes up, he is a threat."

That was the case on May 13 against Fort Myers. Francisco went 3-for-5 with two homers and four RBIs.

"The first (home run) he hit about 420 feet, halfway up the scoreboard," Sarasota assistant general manager Mike Rebok said. "The second one was a laser—it never got higher than about 20 feet until it left the park."

Slow Starter

Francisco has natural power, but he hasn't always been on baseball's fast track.
In 2005, he hit just .228 with the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League Reds.

And in 2006, he spent a majority of the season with the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Reds, where he hit .280/.305/.407 with three home runs and 30 RBIs over 182 at-bats.

"Juan really blossomed last year," Rebok said. "And besides his power, he has an absolute cannon of an arm. He can throw some lasers from behind third base."
Reynolds said he likes Francisco at third base, although that could change.

"We have other young players in our organization at third and, depending on our organizational needs, he could possibly play another position on down the road," Reynolds said. "But in the near future, we don't see him moving from third."

Rebok said Francisco was "a bit thick in the middle" when he first saw him but added that the prospect has gotten in shape once he arrived in Sarasota. In fact, Rebok compares Francisco to a "young, lefthanded version of Vladimir Guerrero."
Ayrault has a different comparison in mind.

"He's an aggressive hitter," Ayrault said. "If it's in his zone, he is like Alfonso Soriano—he is going to take a big whack at it. I don't think he will ever be a big walk guy. He just needs to continue to learn the strike zone and what pitches to lay off."   
Francisco, who is tied for second in the FSL in homers, third in doubles and third in RBIs, takes all the praise in stride. He is known as a fun-loving guy in the clubhouse.

"He is a character," Rebok said. "We have about 10 Latin players, and he is the comedian of the group. I have no idea what he is saying because I don't speak Spanish, but his teammates seem to get a kick out of what he is saying."

Walter Villa is a freelance writer based out of Miami.