The Atlanta Braves still need a left fielder and a lead-off hitter, and it's becoming more evident that general manager Frank Wren may end up filling the spot with internal options. Wren and Fredi Gonzalez spent a few days in the Dominican Republic evaluating several Braves' progress in winter ball, and they liked what they saw from Juan Francisco in particular.
Francisco would play third base if Martin Prado ends up staying in left field, and the Braves brass were encouraged by his improved swing and slimmed down frame.
“(Hitting coach) Greg Walker wanted him to continue to work on less rotation in the swing, and I think he’s done that,” Wren told Dave O'Brien. “And we wanted him to get in better shape and he’s well on his way to that as well. He’s slimmed down and it’s noticeable. It’s still a couple of months before spring training, so I think there’s still more he can do and will do. But he’s had a good winter so far.”
In 29 games with the Licey Tigers, Francisco has hit .315 with seven home runs. Though winter baseball obviously isn't on par with a Major League regular season, those rates are far better than the .234 average and nine home runs he hit in 93 games last year with Atlanta.
Still, Francisco struck out 70 times in just 192 at-bats last year. Unless his swing really has improved that much, Braves fans could be looking at yet another high strikeout man in a lineup that could lead the league in whiffs.
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