Blue Jays farmhand Jeff Francis dominating with AAA Buffalo

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When the Toronto Blue Jays signed Canadian pitcher Jeff Francis to a Minor League contract following the 2014 season, very little was expected. Francis disappointed during a one-month stint with the Blue Jays earlier this season, but for the AAA Buffalo Bisons, he’s been nearly untouchable. The 34 year old lefty kept rolling on Sunday with 7.0 innings of shutout ball, allowing just six hits while striking out four.

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Francis has bounced around the league since being selected ninth overall by the Colorado Rockies in 2002. He’s tip-toed the line between AAA and the MLB with an ERA consistently around 5.00 in the Majors, and allowed nine earned runs on 16 hits in 12.0 innings with the big club through April and May.

Over his last 10 games with the Buffalo Bisons, however, Francis has gone 4-0 with an unbelievable 0.87 ERA, walking just four batters over 52.0 innings pitched. Francis has also struck out 45 batters over that span and boasts an opponent’s batting average of .211.

This doesn’t mean a thing for the 25-man roster of the Toronto Blue Jays, but it doesn’t need to. I’ve always viewed Minor League players in three categories: prospects in need of development, veterans like Francis who hold strong roles as organizational depth, and players that have yet to choose one of the prior. Kevin Pillar could be a past example of a player who was viewed by some as organizational depth before breaking out. In the current system, I view Dwight Smith Jr. in a similar light.

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A player like Francis holds great value from an organizational standpoint because they represent a known and reliable commodity, something that isn’t terribly common in Minor League ball. Randy Wolf is another great example of this with the Bisons. Each of these players represent a quiet spot that the organization can move younger players around, giving the Blue Jays more freedom to assess and develop the players that still fall into the category of “prospects”.

Veteran minds like Francis and Wolf are also valuable to surround these younger players with, which we saw through Daniel Norris‘ time in Buffalo. Though his results didn’t necessarily reflect it, Norris regularly made a point of mentioning the mentorship he was receiving from the more experienced hurlers. I’ve never been too eager to buy into the idea that winning in the Minors produces players that win in the Majors, but surely, it can’t hurt.

We often focus in so closely on the Blue Jays, their top-20 prospects and nothing in between. The unheralded names that occupy the in-between still remain valuable, though, and few players in this entire organization are enjoying a better run than Jeff Francis.

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