photo: Thomas Francisco (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)
At number 50 in The Cardinal Nation’s Top 50 prospect countdown for 2022 is St. Louis’ 19th round draft pick, the first hitter from his class to reach High-A. FREE report!
Position: First base
Age: 22 years old
Height/Weight – 6’0/211
Acquired: 2021 Draft – 19th round (571st overall) from East Carolina
Primary team in 2021: Palm Beach Cardinals (Low-A)
Finished 2021: Peoria Chiefs (High-A)
Prior Top 50 rankings – not applicable
Click on the above photo to be taken to Francisco’s player page at The Cardinal Nation, with additional biography and history information.
Jake Tweedie’s scouting report
(current grade/future grade)
|.143||149 (A)||1.04 (A)||41.7% (A)||18.3% (A)||40% (A)||37.1% (A)||27.4% (A)||35.5% (A)|
Francisco is one of the newer additions to the Cardinals’ system. Drafted in 2021, the first baseman is built solidly but moves well for his size. His stance has significantly improved, allowing him to be more solid at the plate, and allows for his smooth, short swing to generate decent power.
He has a slight twitch with his front foot, but stays fairly planted throughout his swing, allowing for solidity and control when generating his swing. This approach has allowed him to keep a fairly low strikeout percentage by having minimal movement within his swing. In his step-up to High-A from Low-A, he relied more on his opposite field hitting, thus resulting in more line drives. This figure rose from 18.3% to 24.2%, while his opposite field hitting rose from 35.5% to 50%.
Francisco’s physicality and smooth swing should have resulted in more home runs, but the short approach may have played some factor in that. He generates solid contact and power from his swing, without looking like he is trying to hit the ball as hard as possible. His average shows that he can get on base with a variety of hits, but to suit the first base role there will need to be more home runs among the hits.
Defensively he suits the position well. Physical frame and decent athleticism allow him to move well within the field, while having the soft hands and reach to make plays at first base.
Francisco certainly has the potential to be decent hitter in the higher Minor Leagues, but with his physicality and solid stance he should be hitting more home runs and being a big threat with the bat at first base. However, 2021 being his first year in the Minors could be part of the reason these numbers aren’t bigger, but it was a solid enough start with plenty of improvement expected in 2022.
Future Value: 35
Role: AAAA guy/MLB reserve
We got a one run ballgame!
— Peoria Chiefs (@peoriachiefs) September 10, 2021
Brian Walton’s environmental impact report
2021 recap – college
The Cardinals took some intriguing bats late in the 20-round 2021 draft, with Francisco certainly among them.
In the spring for East Carolina, the first baseman had slashed .354/.416/.557/.973 in 282 plate appearances with an equal number of walks and strikeouts (23).
Throughout his college career played against major competition, Francisco showcased a strong hit tool, logging a career .348 batting average. He did not strike out much (10.3%) and walked slightly more often (10.7%) – a strong combination.
Encouragingly in 2021, Francisco showed increased power, with 13 home runs after just five in his previous 175 plate appearances. As noted, for Francisco as a first base-only player to become a successful major leaguer, his power must emerge.
2021 recap – professional
Francisco signed quickly, on July 16, for a $100,000 bonus that was higher than most players taken as late in the draft as he was. He was initially assigned to the Class-A Palm Beach Cardinals along with a number of the other current-year position player draftees.
In the early stages, his playing time was uneven, but in August, he slashed an eye-opening .333/.434/.492, with that .926 OPS third best in the entire system. Francisco delivered some production as well, with 10 RBI in his 19 games that month.
His hot hitting continued into September, when the next door opened. On the sixth, Francisco changed places with a first baseman drafted back in 2016 – and in the process became the Cardinals’ first position player from this July’s draft to reach High-A Peoria. He traded roster spots with Brady Whalen.
In 94 plate appearances in his first 23 professional games, the left-handed hitter slashed an impressive .333/.415/.494/.909 for the Beach Birds. In mid-September, Francisco debuted in our monthly prospect rankings at no. 42.
With Peoria, some adjustment would certainly be expected, but with the season drawing to its close, Francisco had just 10 games to adapt to his new league. He slashed just .211/.268/.316/.584 in his first 41 High-A plate appearances.
It seems most likely that Francisco’s late season promotion was intended to give him an early acclimation to his 2022 opening assignment back with High-A Peoria.
In terms of Francisco’s competition, Whalen would seem to be it. A question is whether the Cardinals would hold Francisco back in favor of a player who would be assigned to Peoria for a third season over four years – albeit at two levels of Class-A play. Perhaps Francisco and Whalen could coexist with greater use of the designated hitter spot, but if a choice has to be made, the former has momentum the latter lost some time ago.
Looking ahead, Todd Lott, who preceded Francisco on the 2021 Palm Beach to Peoria promotion route, seems to be in line to take over first base at Springfield for Luken Baker. The latter moved up a level at the end of the 2021 season himself. More on these two first base prospects are ahead in our ranking countdown.
Certainly, with a strong first half showing at Peoria, an in-season Double-A promotion for Francisco in 2022 would not be out of the question, but one should not assume it.
Jake said it well. The challenge for Francisco is to increase his power enough to one day become MLB-relevant at first base – while maintaining his strengths in hitting for average and keeping the strikeouts and walks at comparable levels. If so, a John Nogowski-like career seems a reasonable ceiling.
A decent progression for Francisco would be to reach the majors during 2024. For it to occur earlier would require a number of dominoes to fall the right way. Either way, if Francisco reaches St. Louis eventually, it would be another feather in the organization’s cap for mining and refining late-round draft gold.
But much work still remains ahead for Francisco after his solid 2021 introduction to the professional game.
MLB debut: 2024
Rule 5 Eligible: 2024
Our 2022 Top 50 series continues
To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects, grading scales and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the Top 50 countdown and 12 in-depth, follow-up articles planned daily into early 2022.
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