The Braves and Reds made a minor deal on Sunday. The Braves sent right-handed minor league pitcher J.J. Hoover for Reds third baseman Juan Francisco. Francisco was out of options, and that likely played a role in this dealing taking place. Hoover has yet to pitch in the majors, and reached Triple-A in the middle of August. Let’s take a look at the fantasy impact of this deal.
The Braves land a third base option to fill in for Chipper Jones early in the season, and serve as his backup once he is activated from the disabled list. Historically, the Braves have used Martin Prado in that role. With Francisco in the fold, the team will no longer be forced to jerk Prado around the diamond, and can now leave him in the outfield. Francisco made his major league debut in 2009, and has seen sporadic playing at the big league level each of the last three seasons. He has frequently been shuttled up and down from Triple-A to the majors. In looking at his career stats, two things are abundantly clear. One thing that is clear is that he has playable in game power. The other thing that is clear is less favorable, and that is that Francisco is a free swinger that is allergic to ball four.
In six minor league seasons, Francisco has compiled a slash of .286/.317/.502 in 2,554 plate appearances. He has hit 60 home runs in 1,206 plate appearances at Double-A and Triple-A combined. That breaks down to roughly 30 home runs every 600 plate appearances. Francisco isn’t an older slugger taking advantage of younger competition as he is just 24 years old. In 181 major league plate appearances he has a line of .284/.331/.450 with five home runs. His home run rate is lower in the majors than in the minors, but the sample size is small, and his raw power is legit. If seeing is believing, take a gander at this moon shot at Great American Ballpark last September.
Francisco certainly has some warts in his game. The most glaring is his impatient approach at the plate. His career minor league walk rate is a pitiful 3.9 percent. Last year it was actually lower than that in Triple-A, and sat at an almost unbelievable 3.2 percent. His career walk rate in the majors is better than his mark in the minors, checking in at 6.1 percent. However, that rate is a bit misleading as he walked three times in his first 25 plate appearances. Since then, he has walked in just eight of his next 156 plate appearances, with one of those walks being the intentional variety. Thus, in his last 156 plate appearances, his unintentional walk rate is 4.5 percent, right about in line with his minor league rate.
Unfortunately, Francisco isn’t the type of hitter that makes up for his low walk rate with a high contact rate. He has struck out in 23.1 percent of his minor league plate appearances, and that rate is up to 28.2 percent in the majors. He was slightly better than both of those rates in Triple-A and the majors, respectively, last year. He expands the zone often, and has swung at 38.7 percent of the pitches thrown by big leaguers out of the strike zone (o-swing). His o-swing ballooned to 44.6 percent, or put another way, 16 percent higher than the league average. Though he chased more often, he also made contact more often. That said, he still makes contact at a lower rate than the big league average, and will need to tighten that up if he hopes to avoid being exploited by pitchers in the show. He has power upside, and should be on NL-only and large mixed league radars, but for now, there is no reason to race to the waiver wire to lay claim to his services.
Hoover, whom the Reds received in the deal, was often overlooked in a deep pool of pitching prospects in Atlanta. His ceiling is nowhere near that of his counterparts, but he has had some success throughout his minor league career. In 401 minor league innings, he has a 3.14 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 2.72 BB/9, and 9.5 K/9.
The biggest question with Hoover is what his future major league role will be. He has predominantly been developed as a starter, starting 47 of 56 games in the minors from 2008-2010. Last year, though, he spent much of the season in the bullpen. He only started 14 in 43 appearances last season. He has the repertoire to start, featuring a fastball, curveball, slider, and change-up. As a starter, his fastball sits in the upper-80s to lower-90s. In relief, he added a few ticks to his fastball velocity. His three secondary pitches get average marks from prospect guru John Sickels, but none standout as special put away pitches. His ceiling is described by most outlets as an innings eating back end of the rotation option, or a setup man in the bullpen.
The Reds bullpen took a hit with the loss of closer Ryan Madson for the season, and the team has stretched out Aroldis Chapman this offseason and spring. He may end up in the rotation, but no formal announcement has been made yet. Reading a quote from Walt Jocketty describing Hoover as a “late-inning guy,” suggests he’ll stay in the pen. If that’s the case, he could have value in holds leagues this season. It’s also not out of the question he could vulture a few saves as a right-handed counterpart to southpaw Sean Marshall, who is expected by most onlookers to end the season with the most saves out of the Reds bullpen. Hoover will be optioned to Triple-A Louisville, and may not need much time in the minors. Look for him to get his first taste of the majors early in the season if he picks up where he left off last season.