Adjustments at the plate aimed at cutting down strikeouts
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Juan Francisco knows what you are thinking.
He is on his third team in six years, and he changed positions, moving from third base to first base in the last year. He has a reputation for striking out -- a lot -- and his long home runs are legendary.
But Francisco asks you to keep an open mind before you put a label on him. The 26-year old is competing with Mark Reynolds, Lyle Overbay, and prospect Hunter Morris for the Brewers' job at first base, and he's optimistic the adjustments he's made at the plate will make a difference and keep him on the roster when camp breaks.
And for the record, Francisco's baseball hero is Boston's David Ortiz, arguably the most famous designated hitter in baseball.
"I don't think I'm all that powerful," Francisco said in Spanish. "Yes, I have some strength and I can hit some home runs, but I don't think I have super power or anything like that. I want to be a better hitter overall, and that's what I'm trying to do."
At the end of last season, Brewers hitting coach Johnny Narron urged Francisco to consider some changes aimed at simplifying his swing to cut down on strikeouts. The first baseman heeded the advice, and hit .260 with three home runs and 24 RBIs in 40 games for Licey in the Dominican Winter League while employing the adjustments. He still struck out 42 times during that stretch.
"I've changed some things in my stance, the things I was missing, and it's working," Francisco said. "The biggest adjustment was working on my balance. I've done the work and I think I just have to show them my development and demonstrate that I'm here to work."
Something had to change. Francisco, acquired by the Brewers from the Braves last summer, hit .227 and struck out 138 times last season. He was plagued with an inconsistent approach in the batter's box for eight years while in the Reds organization, and was eventually traded to the Braves in 2012.
"I'm on my third team, but that's just part of the game and I don't have control of that," he said. "Cincinnati, Atlanta and now here. The whole world knows that this is a business and you can only do so much, but like they say, 'It's not about where you start, it's where you finish.'"
Francisco is off to a nice start this spring. He hit two home runs against Oakland in his first Cactus League game before striking out Friday as a pinch-hitter, and said his new approach is a big reason why he's had immediate success.
"He came into camp and told Johnny that he's trying to get away from his leg kick, he's trying to get away from the long finish, so he's keeping both hands on the bat," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "So he's made some adjustments that Johnny likes, and coming in, he said right off that he's going to [continue] to do it."
It's no surprise that Francisco downplayed his two home run effort. He's hit 32 home runs in the big leagues and 112 more in the Minors, so a couple of Spring Training homers are not important to him.
Make no mistake, Francisco's homers are a big deal.
"When he squares up balls, it doesn't matter what part of the park, he's really got some power," Roenicke said. "Only a handful of guys have his power."
But Francisco's focus remains on the process of becoming a better hitter, and driving a baseball out of the ballpark isn't as important to him as it once was. He said he would take a single or double if the hit drives in a run.
"I have to keep working on what I'm doing at home plate, keep practicing and getting better," he said. "I'm really happy that they have given me a chance to win a job here. I'm really trying to make the adjustments that are going to help me now but also to have a long career."
Francisco said the biggest adjustment on defense is the footwork around first base. Like in the batter's box, he's said he's open to instruction -- in any language.
"Juan understands almost everything I tell him [in English]. He's very quiet and he doesn't like to reply, so in the beginning I would tell him to repeat what I said," Roenicke said. "It's just him being comfortable in replying, whether it's the language or personality or one or the other."
Ultimately, Francisco's statistics will speak for him. He just hopes it tells a different story this time around.