Yes, the daily stories that come out of spring training that talk about a player being in the best shape of his life have long been cliché. However, Braves third baseman Juan Francisco really is in the best shape of his life, according to scouts.
“The belly is gone,” one scout said. “It looks like, to me, that he is finally going to take his career seriously.”
No one has ever questioned Francisco’s raw power, but the Reds grew weary of waiting for him to make a full commitment to conditioning and raising his level of play. They traded him to the Braves for reliever J.J. Hoover last year at the end of spring training. Braves general manager Frank Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez told Francisco point blank midway through last season that he needed to take his profession more seriously or risk being out of the game.
The 25-year-old Francisco took the advice, and now he and Chris Johnson, acquired from the Diamondbacks in a trade last month, figure to wage a spirited battle this spring to replace the retired Chipper Jones at the hot corner. The lefty-swinging Francisco would get the long end of a platoon, but Gonzalez says he would comfortable with someone winning the job outright.
One scout compared Francisco to another former Reds third baseman, who did not find success until he switched organizations—Edwin Encarnacion. Encarnacion, now a Blue Jay, blossomed last season when he hit .280/.384/.557 with 42 home runs.
“Francisco has that type of power,” the scout said. “It wouldn’t shock me if he hit 40 some year, it really wouldn’t.”