Braves Trade J.J. Hoover to Reds for Juan Francisco

With Chipper Jones on the DL for the first two weeks of the season, the Braves traded one of their top pitching prospects, J.J. Hoover, to acquire Reds third base prospect Juan Francisco. Hoover, whom Marc Hulet recently ranked as the 13th-best prospect in the Braves system, goes to Cincinnati in a trade for the powerful but strikeout-prone third baseman.

Hoover, a 10th-round draft pick by the Braves in 2008, likely had more use to other teams than he did to the Braves. Last year, the Braves converted Hoover to a bullpen/swingman role, in part because the organization had so many other high-profile starters in the high minors. Moreover, 2008 was a pitching-heavy draft for the Braves, whose third-round pick was Rookie of the Year Craig Kimbrel, and whose 7th- and 8th-round picks were Paul Clemens and Brett Oberholtzer, centerpieces in the trade that brought Michael Bourn to the Braves.

Hoover is no slouch, though. Hulet writes that he “has the potential to be a solid No. 4 starter at the big league level.” Last September, John Sickels wrote the same, writing:

Hoover has the four classic pitches: fastball, curveball, slider, changeup. His heater is a tick above average in the low 90s, but works well due to the contrast with his secondary pitches. All three of his non-fastball offerings are rated as solid major league average. Although he doesn’t have a genuine plus pitch, none of them are weak, arsenal is diverse, he mixes them well, throws strikes, and has been extremely durable in his career. He’s maintained his strikeout rate and K/BB ratios at each level, and he’s never had a serious injury. He is a strong fly ball pitcher, but doesn’t give up an excessive number of home runs.

For most teams, Hoover would profile as a solid number three or four starter, chewing up innings at a good clip with consistent performance.

With Jones on the DL, Francisco may begin the season as the Braves’ third baseman. In recent years, Martin Prado has been the Braves’ backup third baseman of choice, averaging 42 games a year at third from 2009-2011, despite serving as the Braves’ primary second baseman in 2010 and primary left fielder in 2011. The Francisco trade may signify that the Braves hope Francisco will be the primary backup, and that they intend to keep Martin Prado at one position as much as possible in the 2012 season.

Francisco is 24 years old and has received cups of coffee in the majors in each of the last three seasons. Those three shuttle seasons are one reason he was available: he’s out of options, and therefore of greater value to the Braves than he was to the Reds. He’s got real power — one reason that his nickname is “El Niño Destructor” — but very weak plate discipline. As Carson Cistulli wrote in his Fangraphs+ profile:

Juan Francisco plays real baseball the way many of us do video-game baseball — which is to say, he swings basically all the time and with abandon. Even the limited sample that is his major-league career to date bears this out: in his first 181 plate appearances, Francisco has posted a PITCHf/x O-Swing rate of 40.8%, relative to a league-average mark of ca. 28.0% over that stretch. Francisco’s 44.6% O-Swing from 2011 (97 PA) would’ve placed him second only to Vladimir Guerrero (45.2%) among the league’s 145 qualified batters. Still, he’s hit 38 home runs in 742 Triple-A plate appearances and is entering just his age-25 season, suggesting that there’s room for development.

Francisco’s major league OBP is actually higher than his minor league OBP: in 181 PA in the majors, he’s hitting .284/.331/.450, while in 2554 PA in the minors, he’s hitting .286/.317/.502. (In other words, his minor league OBP is bad.) His minor league strikeout to walk ratio is 5.96-to-1, and his minor league walk rate is 3.9 percent. He can bomb the ball, but poor plate discipline has dogged him since the Reds signed him out of the Dominican Republic in 2004, and eight years later, he doesn’t appear to have solved the problem.

However, the Braves won’t need him to. As long as he can play 40-50 games at third base, hit the occasional home run, and strike out rather than ground into double plays, he’ll give them what they need this year. Next year, after Chipper Jones’s retirement, the Braves will need to decide whether he’s their third baseman of the future. Regardless of whether he’s Mr. Right, he’ll suit them as Mr. Right Now.

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Alex is a writer for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times, and is a product manager for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @alexremington.

25 Responses to “Braves Trade J.J. Hoover to Reds for Juan Francisco”

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  1. Well-Beered Englishman says:

    This is either a really good analytical article or a really obtuse April Fool’s joke.

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  2. Vin says:

    What are the political implications of this move?

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  3. Frank says:

    I’d personally like to see some quotes from baseball executives about what they think of this move. The ramifications may be felt for years to come.

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  4. covvb0y says:

    Don’t act surprised fans. Thanks Chipper!
    The reality of the situation is this guy will be at third more than Chipper Jones will

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    • GeezOhPlease says:

      Yea, screw Chipper! I can’t believe he’d have the audacity to play ball without any cartilage in his knee! If he wasn’t such a baby, he’d just deal with the bone-on-bone contact. Man up! What has he done for the organization, anyways? Nothin’ fars I can tell.


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  5. FlimtotheFlam says:

    I wonder if the Braves contacted the Cardinals about Matt Carpenter

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    • Name says:

      Wondered the same thing. I’m guessing he was much more expensive. Wren said they’ve been talking to the Reds about Francisco since the Winter Meetings, so it sounds like they’ve done their homework on the guy.

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      • Undocorkscrew says:

        Wren got his man. Low OBP, lots of strike outs, poor range(though a good arm), great pop. He reportedly showed up at camp overweight too.

        I will never criticize the Braves scouts on the pitching end, but as far as position players go they need to try a different approach. They’ve apparently ‘loved’ Francisco for years. I don’t hate the deal though, I just hope Chipper can stay on the field for 115-120 games….

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      • Name says:


        It’s all about opportunity cost ant not much else. The Reds burned through his options the last few years trying to cover for Rolen’s injuries and backed themselves into this situation. The Braves just capitalized. I doubt anyone in the organization thinks they just acquired a surefire superstar, but this was a very worthwhile move. The guy’s never been given consistent at-bats and its very likely, given his age, that he’s not done developing as a hitter. This is exactly the kind of approach the Braves need to be making. They just grabbed a 24 yr old kid with massive power potential for a good, but very replaceable arm. Worst case scenario they have a power bat that can play at 3B when Chipper doesn’t. Best case scenario, we’ve got a power hitter that’s under team control for several years and can take over at third when Chipper leaves. I’m absolutely ok with this.

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  6. jpg says:

    Alex, did April Fools’ Day play any role in you writing this? Coverage of this deal just seems like an odd assignment for you. You writing is always angled more towards story telling, human interest stories, the business side of baseball, and otherarticles that aren’t centered around statistical analysis. Were all of the other staff writers busy, so you took one for the team? If memory serves you’re a Braves fan so maybe that’s why? Just curious.

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  7. Jeffy25 says:

    Quote from a bad movie

    Maybe eventually that ‘Now’ will fall off from Mr. Right Now

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  8. Keystone Heavy says:

    “You don’t walk off the island.”

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