ATLANTA -- As Juan Francisco languished over the past few years in the Reds' organization, many scouts described him as either lazy or unmotivated. The Braves viewed him as a young player who would likely take an opportunity to play on a consistent basis.
Since acquiring Francisco in a trade just four days before the start of the regular season, the Braves have gained confidence in their assessment. The 25-year-old third baseman has spent the past six weeks working with hitting coach Greg Walker on a daily basis and also making the changes necessary to take approximately five pounds off his frame.
"I need to lose 10 to 15 more pounds before next year," Francisco said.
This simple goal demonstrates Francisco has committed himself since being challenged during a meeting with one of the team's executives in early July. Since then he has worked with Walker to gain a better feel for the strike zone and to attempt to rid himself of the habit of opening up with his front foot.
The results have been visible. The weight loss has created a little more mobility at third base. The time spent with Walker has helped Francisco hit .444 (12-for-27) with four doubles and a home run in the 13 games he has played dating back to July 21.
With Eric Hinske hitting just .122 in 82 at-bats dating back to May 5, Francisco has become the Braves' primary left-handed pinch-hitter. In addition, he has played third base well enough to at least make himself an option to potentially serve as Chipper Jones' successor next year.
"He's been great, we didn't have that last year," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I think he has eased Chipper's mind by making him think when he's not in the lineup, 'Hey, we're going to be all right,' and we have been."
Francisco has compiled 151 at-bats this season. While bouncing back and forth between Minor League stints, he had totaled 169 big league at-bats with Cincinnati the three previous seasons.
Before being anointed Jones' successor, Francisco will likely need to lose a few more pounds and prove that he can hit left-handed pitchers. He has recorded seven hits in just 35 at-bats against left-handers this season.