Best Tools: July 2 Prospects
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Scouts Still Find Lots To Like About Francoeur, Hermida
By John Manuel
On April 9, 2002, Jeremy Hermida and Jeff Francoeur already were part of the same recruiting class at Clemson. It was a potentially amazing class, starring the two suburban Atlanta outfielders and Florida prep righthander/infielder Zack Greinke.
While Francoeur was a football signee, he and Hermida knew they could be playing together in the outfield at Doug Kingsmore Stadium for three years. Or, if they went high in the draft in two months’ time, they could go their separate ways.
As Francoeur’s Parkview High team out of Lilburn prepared to play Hermida’s Wheeler High team of Marietta, the coaches set up a special batting-practice session with wood bats before the game. Around 50 scouts showed up to take it all in.
Scouts already were familiar with both players. While back pain had hampered Hermida in his junior season, plenty of scouts had seen him play with Wheeler High’s Josh Burrus, whom the Braves drafted in the first round in 2001. They also had seen Hermida play summers with East Cobb’s amateur program, which to Hermida was a more important season, due to the level of competition and travel involved.
Scouts also knew Francoeur well, even though he was splitting time between baseball and football on his way to seven Georgia state championships between the two sports. Francoeur, with his football-ready body that combined grace and power, and leadership ability and charisma that drew scouts as well as teammates to him, was the better known of the duo. But Francoeur’s drawing power helped Hermida.
“He had the best round of BP you’d want to see,” a veteran scout in Georgia says now. “Francoeur was the feature guy, but Hermida’s BP was just great, in front of a lot of important scouts. It wasn’t that he was showing amazing power; he just showed a smooth, solid stroke with a wood bat, and he was centering everything.”
So Hermida became the center of attention, climbing draft boards until the Marlins snatched him with the 11th overall pick. Francoeur—due in part to a reported $4 million bonus demand—fell to the 23rd overall pick, where the hometown Braves pounced on him. Playing together at Clemson wasn’t going to happen. Instead, the duo would be linked by their geography and signing bonuses—Hermida got $2.0125 million, Francoeur $2.3 million—and measured against each other as they progressed through the minors.
Both finished 2004 in the Arizona Fall League and ranked as their organization’s No. 1 prospects, and both figure to start 2005 in the Double-A Southern League—unless they hit their way to the big leagues in spring training.
And they know the comparisons really started during that round of batting practice in April 2002.
“Our coaches did a nice job of making it easy for us to be seen,” Francoeur says. “It was fun to play against him in high school because he’s such a competitor. That’s the kind of player who brings out the best in you, and I think we brought out the best in each other.”
Both the Braves and Marlins figure the best for both outfielders is yet to come. While they have come far since being drafted, they both have holes to work on.
Francoeur has five-tool talent, with plus speed and range in right field, enough arm strength to have hit 95 mph off the mound in high school and light-tower power. Al Goetz, the Braves area scout for Georgia who signed Francoeur, says his combination of tools and makeup should make him the “most special player ever to come out of this state . . . His raw physical tools are off the charts, and he’s still pretty raw. On the field and off the field, his character is unquestioned.”
Francoeur laughs at a question including the word “charisma,” but it’s clear he has it. His leadership qualities jump off the field at scouts, coaches and opposing players. “He’s very outgoing, easy to talk to for players and coaches,” says Clemson coach Jack Leggett, after a rueful laugh recounting how he could have had Francoeur and Hermida in the outfield together for three seasons. “He’s going to be a leader at any level; it’s just the kind of young man he is.”
Francoeur says he just tries to show his joy for the game, and if others call it charisma, so be it. And no place on the field brings him more joy than the batter’s box. “I don’t play to be in right field or to rob a home run or throw a guy out; I play to hit,” he says. “I love to hit.”
That passion has helped Francoeur adjust his swing from his high school days. To unleash his raw power, Francoeur has worked hard to incorporate a trigger in his swing, helping him post a .506 slugging percentage at high Class A Myrtle Beach last season at spacious Coastal Federal Field.
The next step in his development is to become more selective. Francoeur is well aware that he drew no walks in 18 games at Double-A Greenville last season, and just two in 25 AFL games. He intends to draw more walks in 2005, but he wants to do a better job identifying what pitches he can drive and get himself into better hitter’s counts.
“Patience is what I’m looking for, but I don’t want to take away my aggressiveness either,” he says. “I feel my aggressiveness is what makes me the player I am. I understand how it helps me to take that 3-1 pitch and draw a walk. It’s tough because I want to hit, but the more games I see and the more experience I get, the better I think I’ll be at it.”
Searching For Balance
Hermida’s patience and plate discipline aren’t in question. He drew 42 walks in 91 games at high Class A Jupiter last season, has a .374 career OBP and is comfortable working deep in counts. Scouts have compared his swing and hitting ability to big leaguers from Eric Chavez to Shawn Green to Paul O’Neill.
To reach those lofty goals, Hermida will have to stay healthy—he’s had nagging injuries such as hamstring and heel issues interrupt his last two seasons—and hit for more power. His .441 slugging percentage in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League was a career high, but scouts differ on his power potential. For some, his swing lacks loft and his bat speed is just average. Others see a hitter with the right combination of a smooth, repeatable swing and plate discipline that should produce homers as he gets stronger. None of this is news to Hermida, who has a plan of his own to hit more home runs. After hitting 10 in 340 at-bats with Jupiter, he slammed seven in 132 at-bats in the AFL.
“I’ve been getting that question about my power since I signed,” Hermida says. “The Marlins have told me not to worry about power, just to keep hitting line drives gap-to-gap. As long as I hit it hard consistently, I’ll be happy.
“In Arizona, it’s such a learning experience, and I experimented some with guessing on what pitch I was going to see. I guess that’s why I hit some home runs there. It’s also why I struck out some, though, because I started guessing wrong. So now this year I want to combine the guessing with just seeing it and hitting it, try to find a happy medium.”
Francoeur and Hermida are both searching for balance, between aggression and patience, between steadiness and explosiveness. When they find it, they expect to find each other again, in the big leagues.
“I can understand that we’re compared to each other because we’re from the same place and we play the same position, and our results are kind of the same,” Hermida says. “I hope the other thing people notice is that we just play hard-nosed baseball and play all-out all the time.”
Even in batting practice.