Surprisingly left off the Blue Jays postseason roster, Bowden Francis provided multiple strong innings of support out of the pen whenever asked. The only issue, the Jays almost never used him.
Acquired alongside Trevor Richards in the Rowdy Tellez trade last season, Francis was viewed by some as a throw-in, but he impressed enough to earn a one-game call-up. After getting outrighted off the 40-man roster at the end of last season, Francis had to earn his way back to the team, and he sure did.
Using his combo of a mid-90s fastball, a mid-80s slider, and a mid-70s curve, Francis was able to retire batters over multiple innings, doing so 11 times this season for the Jays, and while he was used mainly in low-leverage situations, he did pitch to 1.73 ERA and 0.83 WHIP. Along with those numbers he also picked up his first major league save, throwing the final three innings in a blowout win over the Reds in September.
Taking a look at the advanced numbers, while they don't qualify, his 3.71 xERA shows that he definitely benefited from some excellent defense, but it also puts him around the same range as pitchers such as Aaron Civale and Chris Sale. His xBA of .219 would've ended up in the top 100 of the league, equal to Tyler Glasnow and Bryan Woo, showing that a lot of the contact he did give up resulted in minimal damage.
Featured at the front of the Jays pen, Francis was often shuffled back and forth from Buffalo, where he would would work almost exclusively as a starter (seven starts in nine games) and while he never pitched more than 4.2 innings in a start, the team clearly viewed him as a possible rotation option at the beginning of the year. As Francis impressed, the team felt increasingly confident in using him in higher importance and his final four appearances (two in Triple-A, two in Toronto) were all only a single inning.
Long term, it appears that Francis will continue to be used out of the bullpen (his numbers as a reliever are significantly better than as a starter), and while the numbers are limited, almost everything he showed the Blue Jays could be used as strong evidence for him earning a bullpen spot in 2024.
He doesn't have enough of a sample size to earn an A, but more often than not he provided them with positive innings, which earns him strong marks.
Letter grade: B
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