Thursday, July 29, 2004


It might be a bit premature to credit a geographic region as a "hotbed" of talent due to the emergence of just three players, but Rich Harden, Justin Morneau, and Jeff Francis are far and away the best young Canadian players since the Expos had a Canuck in RF.

Like Larry Walker, all three are products of British Columbia high school baseball. (Francis even went to university at UBC.) Why B.C.? I can't say for sure, but I'm guessing that despite the perpetual rain, B.C.'s climate has a lot to do with it. It's much milder than the rest of the country, and thus facilitates a longer season. I also imagine being very close to the American North-West helps stimulate greater competition.

Whatever the reason, it's pretty exciting. Not that everything's all peachy keen, but there's reason to be optimistic.

Rich Harden has yet to consistently control the strike zone, but he's definitely in the right organization to help him learn that trick. And at 22-years-old, there's no doubting his stuff.

Justin Morneau, unfortunately, is in the absolute worst organization given his needs (playing time for a young 1B/DH), but he's stuffed with so much talent that even the Twins have realised that maybe he should play... occasionally.

As for Jeff Francis, the 23-year-old might be the best pitching prospect in AAA. Sure, maybe the point's irrelevant with youngin's Scott Kazmir, Matt Cain, and Felix Hernandez in AA, and Dustin McGowan, Cole Hamels, and Greg Miller on the mend. But only Francis is past the dreaded injury nexus, and thus he's probably the only true prospect in the bunch. TINSTAAPP need not apply.

Since arriving in AAA, Francis is 2-1 with a 0.95 ERA in three starts. Sure, that sounds impressive. It's the peripherals that are orgasmic: 19 IP, 14 H, 0 HR, 1 BB, 27 K.

Better still, he's continuing right where he left off in AA: 17 GS, 1.98 ERA, 113.2 IP, 73 H, 9 HR, 22 BB, 147 K.

And if you really want to start salivating, Francis' #6 PETCO comp is Johan Santana.

In 2002 as a 23-year-old in AAA, Santana had a 3.14 ERA over 48.2 IP with 37 H, 7 HR, 27 BB, and 75 K before being called up to the Twins.

Let's put that into context:

Santana (AAA): 6.84 H/9, 4.99 BB/9, 13.87 K/9, 1.29 HR/9
Francis (AA/AAA): 5.90 H/9, 1.56 BB/9, 11.80 K/9, 0.61 HR/9

(For the record, both Santana and Francis put up the bulk of those numbers in slight pitchers' parks... but like it's since hurt Santana much.)

Unfortunately, Jeff Francis is doomed. Because Jeff Francis, of course, pitches in the Colorado Rockies' system. (And you thought Morneau was unlucky.) The shortlist of good pitchers who came to Colorado and sucked no doubt keeps Francis awake at night: Pedro Astacio, Darryl Kile, Denny Neagle, Mike Hampton.

What's interesting, however, is the last name on the Francis' PETCO comp list, #20, is a pitcher by the name of Joe Kennedy. Now, PETCO spewed out these names before Francis' breakout this year, or before Kennedy tossed a singly pitch for the Rockies. But Kennedy, a once highly touted prospect with the Devil Rays who never amounted to much in Tampa Bay, has since gone on to put together a solid season this year before he was disabled with inflammation in his pitching shoulder. (He was among the league leaders in BP's Support Neutral Wins About Replacement before going down.)

It's tough to know what to make of Kennedy's 100 IP this year. Fluke? Sample size error? Or had he really discovered the trick to pitch in the thin air of Colorado? His ERA was under 4 both at home and on the road, and his peripherals were comparable.

All of which gives me hope that maybe Jeff Francis will be one day be pitching to Justin Morneau at the All-Star Game after all.

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