The assumption the entire offseason was that Martin Prado was going to fill the void at third base left by Chipper Jones, leaving Juan Francisco for spot duty in 2013. Then in a surprising move, the Atlanta Braves dealt Prado to acquire Justin Upton, which created a huge opportunity for Francisco. This spring training is a vital point in his career as he looks to become an everyday player at the MLB level.
2012 Recap: Francisco began the 2012 spring training in a competition with Todd Frazier for the Cincinnati Reds‘ backup third base position before the Braves acquired him just days before the regular season began. Francisco added left-handed power off the bench and some spot starts at third base. In 93 games (205 plate appearances), he hit .234 with nine homers and 32 RBI and posted a .710 OPS while striking out 70 times. In the field, he made six errors in 93 chances for a .935 fielding percentage.
2013 Outlook: The 25-year-old has never had the chance to be an everyday starter and now has his best opportunity. He finds himself in a competition with Chris Johnson, who the Braves also acquired in the Upton-Prado deal. Francisco’s work ethic has been questioned in the past, and if he can’t find motivation this spring training, he will likely never hold a starting position at the major league level. By all accounts, he has worked this offseason and has made a strong case so far in spring training. In 24 at-bats, he is hitting .333 with a home run and two doubles for a .875 OPS.
It’s no secret the Braves acquired Francisco due to his tremendous power potential at the plate. However, his biggest advantage over Johnson for the everyday job could be his defense. Francisco has a tremendous arm and Fangraphs show that he is a much better fielder than Johnson. In spring training, Francisco has cleanly fielded his 15 chances while Johnson botched a pop-up. On a team loaded with hitting, fielding could influence manager Fredi Gonzalez‘s decision more than people think.
Nevertheless, Francisco strikes out way too much. He struck out an abysmal once every 2.7 at-bats in 2012. Even though he’s a power hitter, that must improve to be an everyday player. In looking at everything he brings to the table, a platoon appears to be the likely scenario. His power potential is off the charts, but so are the strikeouts. If the Braves were truly confident in him to take over the position they would not have needed to bring in Johnson in the trade. However, Francisco has been given the opportunity to prove he’s a capable starting third baseman. That’s all he can ask for at this point in his career.