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Key for Reds' Francisco is consistency

Key for Reds' Francisco is consistency

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GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Juan Francisco is a Spring Training marvel.

When the Reds infielder steps into the batter's box, he has the ability to make observers drop their jaws in awe after a hit or scratch their heads in confusion after a miss, sometimes during the same at-bat.

"It's either been tremendous or not very much," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "[It's] all or nothing, depending on if he is swinging at strikes or not."

Opening Day is less than three weeks away and the free-swinging Francisco has the Reds wondering exactly where he fits in with the big league club this season, if he fits in at all. Francisco is hitting .286 with two home runs and five strikeouts this spring.

"I think I'm ready for the big leagues but I still have to get better," Francisco, 22, said. "This is a business. You don't know what can happen. It's not my decision."

This much is certain: Francisco can play third base, left field, first base and possibly right field. The Reds have Scott Rolen, Jonny Gomes/Chris Dickerson, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce at the top of the depth chart at those positions and they are not going anywhere anytime soon.

Here's what else is true: Francisco hit .359 and struck out 24 times in 22 games at Triple-A Louisville last year and struck out 91 times in 109 games for Double-A Carolina. He hit .429 in 14 games for the Reds despite striking out seven times in 21 at-bats.

"My goal is to play in the big leagues this year, but I want to do more than that, I want to maintain a high level," Francisco said. "I just need to keep working hard and play the entire season. I want to have a healthy season."

Francisco still has work to do because he frustrates the club because he swings at pitches out of the zone. What makes matters worse, Baker said, is that the slugger can hit those wild pitches -- and hit them hard. In 131 Minor League games last season, the prospect hit .295 with 27 home runs and 93 RBIs. He walked 24 times, led all Reds Minor Leaguers in home runs and was fifth in hitting.

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"I don't want to take away his aggressiveness but he needs to increase his plate discipline, too," the manager said.

Francisco's assertive persona in the batter's box is the complete opposite of his tranquil personality out of it. He said he plays hard and seems so intense because he's focused on becoming a better ballplayer in order to provide for his loved ones.

Family is important to Francisco. He was raised by his parents in the Dominican Republic in a home with his two sisters and brother. He and his wife have a daughter nearing her second birthday and they are expecting their second child.

"I'm a family man," he said. "My life is simple. I just want to play baseball, but you have to find a spot."

To help him in his quest for a "spot," Francisco played 20 games in left field for Leones Del Escogido last winter in the Dominican Republic. He hit .278 with one home run, five RBIs and eight strikeouts during last month's Caribbean Series.

"I was able to help my country and help myself," he said. "There are a lot of Major Leaguers and guys from Triple-A and Double-A, so it was a great experience. You can work on things and watch how veterans do it. That was the best part."

Questions concerning Francisco remain. Is he doing enough to make the 25-man roster or will he be better served by starting the season in the Minor Leagues? When will he be ready to play every day in the big leagues, and given the Reds' abundance of depth at the positions he plays, does it really matter?

"We don't know if there is 'everyday' room right now," Baker said. "Sometimes, there's not 'everyday' room."

Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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