With Encarnacion out of the lineup, fans were presented the chance to see Juan Francisco at third base. Just two years ago, the 6-2, 180-pound Dominican hit 25 homers and drove in 90 runs for the Class A Dayton Dragons in 135 games. Last year he hit 23 homers and drove in 92 runs in 127 games for Class A Sarasota.
During winter ball in the Dominican this year, he hit 12 home runs for Cibao, a Dominican Winter League record for lefthanded hitters.
“He can hit,” Baker said of Francisco. “He is what you want young hitters to be. He is aggressive. You want a young hitter you can tone down rather than have to tone up. You want guys to be selective, you want guys to go deep in the count. But that comes with experience. But you want to see young hitters be aggressive.”
Francisco’s aggression has led to 284 strikeouts the last two years and Baker said, “That’s what I mean about toning something down. You can turn that flame down. That’s easier than turning a flame up.”
Baker said Francisco’s winter ball numbers carry credence.
“I put big stock in them,” said Baker. “Anybody who has played winter ball knows. It’s more serious baseball for guys in that country than ours is. You have people into it big-time, gambling on games (by fans). That’s how it is, therefore it puts pressure on you. You better play good or you’re going to hear from somebody up there.”
Tossed bottles and pulled guns are part of the winter league fabric.
“Dominican baseball is as good as there is in winter ball and Francisco is batted cleanup on his team, a kid (21) just out of ‘A’ ball,” Baker added. “And those parks down there are big. I put a lot of stock in that.”
Francisco is a third baseman by trade, but there is chatter about moving him to the outfield or first base.
“He has a great arm,” said Baker. “There is a good athlete in that young oversized body right now. He’ll tone up. He’s working hard. Not everybody is born skinny. Everybody wants him to be thinner, but Albert Pujols wasn’t skinny when he started, either.”
Francisco has the quick hands of a third baseman, but as Baker says, “I’m sure he can play the outfield and can play first base, too. It depends on what the organization needs. I mean it’s a matter of stockpiling.
“You got Todd Frazier at short and Yonder Alonzo at first and Frazier also at third and Chris Valaika at short. Eventually they are all going to be playing together so you have to find where they can play according to body type, arm, speed, athleticism. We have to make the right decisions on where we put these kids,” Baker added.