Mar 3, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Juan Francisco (21) hits an RBI single against the Chicago Cubs during the fifth inning at Maryvale Baseball Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports
Francisco’s raw power made him an intriguing prospect when the Brewers acquired him for left-handed pitching prospect Thomas Keeling on June 3, 2013. Still, as time went on, the Brewers and the fans got a glimpse at the good, bad and ugly of Francisco’s game. Defensively he was forced to “fill in” at first in a year-long carousel at the position, as well as getting some limited time at his “natural” position, third base. When the dust settled, Francisco was a liability defensively, and offensively showed a lot of power potential, but reality showed a high strikeout rate and low batting average for this potential.
Entering spring training, Francisco was competing with non-roster invitees Reynolds and Overbay for what appeared to be two spots.
While Francisco’s stats were superior to Overbay looking at it in terms of lefty against lefty, the reality of the situation is Mark Reynolds solidified himself as the starter first, making the decision on Overbay versus Francisco all about who is the best reserve player.
Reynolds got the primary share of at bats (44 to date) throughout spring and leads of the Brewers in RBIs with 10, while hitting .250. His consistent presence in the lineup shows the Brewers willingness to commit to him in 2014, something Reynolds has not experienced since his time in Baltimore. Reynolds is similar to Francisco in the respect that he is a flawed player in many areas. He is a high volume strikeout risk and while he has tremendous power he has traditionally hit for a low batting average. The difference is that Reynolds can field the position at a respectable level while still providing insurance at third base.
With Reynolds penciled in as the starter at first base for Opening Day you have to ask yourself, what do you want from a reserve player?
I look for someone who can provide good defense, serve as a pinch hitter and be able to start when needed. Overbay excels in all three aspects over Francisco. Defensively, Overbay is currently eighth among all active first basemen with 63 errors and seventh overall in fielding percentage. Francisco, on the other hand, led the Brewers this spring with three errors and while Reynolds also has the same amount, he has logged 24 1/3 more innings defensively.
While Overbay served primarily a starter for the New York Yankees in 2013, making 464 of his plate appearances in that role, as a pinch hitter Overbay hit .263 in 22 plate appearances. For his career, Overbay is a .222 pinch hitter. Francisco is a .208 pinch hitter.
Overbay offers the Brewers a different option as starter than both Francisco and Reynolds. He is steady, experienced and while he has a limited shelf life and low potential at this stage in the game, the risk is minimal.
This is a move not only for 2014, but for the future. Overbay offers a solid veteran presence in the locker room and can still serve as a key reserve this season both offensively and defensively. However, this move to me is about a belief that Mark Reynolds can handle first base for 500 plus at-bats, that the Brewers have young options at the position in Triple-A in Hunter Morris and Jason Rogers. Aramis Ramirez is also a free agent after the year.
All of those things play a role in the Brewers’ decision, including Ramirez since no immediate option at the position is on the horizon except maybe Reynolds. In the long run, the loss of Francisco will be less of a loss than critics think. Reynolds has a better chance of being part of the equation long term versus Francisco and as a result sealed the fate for Francisco in Milwaukee.