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The Case for Juan Francisco as Braves Everyday Third Baseman

It’s Not the Best Case Scenario for Braves Fans, but it Could Become the Accepted Reality as the Winter Goes On

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | Before you begin to rant, hear me out on this subject.

In no way am I supporting the decision to make Juan Francisco the Braves starting third baseman for Opening Day -- unless the Braves are facing a right handed pitcher that day.

There is no reason for Braves fans to feel comfortable going into the 2013 season with Francisco at third base. The ultimate goal is still to acquire a high quality bat for left field so Martin Prado can play third.

But as the winter goes on, more free agents come off the board and the price to make a trade for a difference making bat elevates, it begins looking more likely that the Braves organization will lean towards starting the season with Francisco at third.

Of course there is always the chance the Braves could run a platoon in left field, while Prado gets the majority of the starts at third.

However, I believe Francisco could still be a serviceable third baseman if the situation becomes so dire.

Let's go back and look at his minor league numbers, because these will show what he can do when put into an everyday lineup.

In 2007 he was given 562 at bats with the Reds Class-A affiliate and hit 25 home runs, while batting .268. Playing a level up in 2008 he hit 23 home runs with a .277 average in 541 at bats.

Between Double-A and Triple-A in 2009 he registered 562 at bats, hit 27 home runs and batted .295.

That was the last year he was given a significant number of at bats as he was called up to the majors in parts of 2009, 2010 and 2011.

In 2012 for the Braves he was given an at bat here and there and saw minimal success hitting a collective .234 in 192 chances so I understand why Braves fans are scared about the fact that he could be taking over for Chipper Jones.

There were spots throughout the season when Francisco seemed to put it together. In May he registered 53 at bats, which was the most he received in any month during the 2012 season, and he hit .245 for the month with two home runs and eight RBIs.

He got hot again at the end of July. During a two week stretch he was 10-17 with 2 home runs and only three strikeouts.

At that point many Braves fans and coaches hoped he had finally put it together, but then he struggled again down the stretch and hardly saw any playing time the last two months.

For those who followed the Braves closely in 2012 you probably know that the staff wasn't overly thrilled with Francisco's work ethic and clubhouse presence. He was sat down and given a talking to after one too many bat flips at the beginning of the season.

But as the year progressed several coaches and announcers talked about how much he had matured throughout the year and the extra work he was putting in with the Braves hitting coaches. This was around the time he got hot in July.

Francisco has been working on shedding a couple of pounds while playing in the Dominican Winter League this offseason. Not sure if the weight loss has anything to do with his performance, but he is performing well for Tigres del Licey.

Playing just about every day, as of Dec. 18 he was hitting .307 in 127 at bats with nine home runs and 29 runs batted in.

The strikeout numbers are still alarming as he's whiffed 38 times, while only adding 12 walks. But the Braves staff seems to be happy with guys that can hit 20-plus home runs and strikeout 130-plus times.

The fact is Francisco is still just a kid. He deserves to be given a shot to play every day in a major league lineup. I wish that experiment could be with another team, but as of now he's the best man the Braves have for the job.

We all know what to expect from him, so expectations should be tempered. Given over 500 at bats he's going to hit 20 or more home runs, drive in 80 and strikeout 140 times.

Those types of numbers would be great on most teams, but the Braves have enough guys that are going to put up similar numbers.

The other alternative is to showcase Francisco in the regular lineup and hope he gains trade interest come time for the trade deadline.

While the Braves don't need another 20 home run, 130 strikeout guy on their team, many teams would covet having him at third base.

Again, the number one priority for the Braves is to find someone who can play left field and possibly leadoff. That would be the best case scenario heading into the upcoming season.

I'm just trying to ease the mind of those disgusted by the thought of Francisco manning the hot corner on Opening Day.

Jake Mastroianni has written for several websites pertaining to the Braves and baseball in general. He also has experience working in media relations for minor league baseball, as well as at the collegiate level.

All stats and figures courtesy of baseball-reference.com and mlb.com.

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