Letters of Intent
By Bob Elliott
A reader wrote the other day … after the Blue Jays signed LHPJeff Francis(North Delta, BC) for a minor-league deal with an invite to spring training …
I was surprised looking at the career of Jeff Francis. It feels like he has been around a long time and done great things, a Canadian sentiment I guess. I would love to read a “things you need to know about Jeff Francis,” as I feel I don’t know him, and know him, at the same time if that makes sense.
A few things you should know about Jeffrey William Francis … as he
1. Was nicknamed Boomer by grandpa William Francis when he was two weeks old: Jeffrey … as in Geoffrion … Bernie Geoffrion with the Montreal Canadians? He started calling him Boom-Boom and it was shortened to Boomer.
2. Was a teammate of Justin Morneau’s with the North Delta Blue Jays playing for coaches Ari Mellios and Mike Kelly in the British Columbia Premier League. Morneau was drafted as a catcher by the Minnesota Twins and signed for $300,000 US in 1999.
3. Went on the Canadian Junior National Team trip to Arizona in 1999, Along with SS Hyung Cho (Toronto, Ont.) who hit .484 the Canucks won 10 of 13 games as London Badgers lefty Sean Grimes (London, Ont.) 5.89 and Francis, 1.71 ERA, each went 3-1.
4. Was undrafted and chose to attend the University of British Columbia Thunderbids, the Canadian university in only its third year competing south of the border in an NAIA conference.
5. Was Canadian Baseball Network player of the year and a member of the CBN all-Canadian First Teamas a sophomore in 2001. He was an impressive 12-3 with a minuscule 0.92 ERA for UBC and coach Terry McKaig.
In 15 starts he had eight complete games, which included a 46-inning scoreless streak. In 98 1/3 innings he fanned 118 hitters, while walking only 15. Francis was named NAIA Region I Player of the Year. He also was named to the NAIA All American first Team.
6. Was threatening Adam Loewen to be the top Canuck drafted 11 months before the June 2002 draft. They were the twin towers of Loewen and Francis, both 6-foot-5 left-handers from BC and Baseball America cover boys.
Loewen held the No. 1 spot pitching for Team Canada and the Walleye Chiefs, but now Francis was climbing. Both Loewen and Francis were expected to go in the top 50 North Americans high schoolers and collegians.
Francis pitched a club-record, six shutouts, finishing 7-1 with a 1.20 ERA. In 76 innings, he had 83 strikeouts.
7. Headed north to pitching for the Anchorage Bucs, earning Alaska League player of the year and all-star honours. Francis pitched a club-record six shutouts, had a 7-1 record with a 1.20 ERA and struck out 83 in 76 innings. The Anchorage Pilots won the league title and added Francis for their trip to the National Baseball Congress in Wichita, Kan.
He pitched a five-inning, 10-0 win over the South Alabama Pawsox and worked 7 1/3 shutout innings in a 1-0, extra-inning loss to the Hays (Kansas) Larks. He came back and closed in the championship against the Larks on Saturday, pitching 1 2/3 shutout innings to preserve a 3-2 lead. He earned tournament MVP with 14 shutout innings, tournament all-star and was tabbed “best pro prospect.”
8. Earned First Team honors on the 2002 Canadian Baseball Network All-Canadian team, as a repeat all-Canadian winner. Francis was voted to the NAIA all-region team, his second consecutive selection going 7-2 with a 1.93 ERA, fanning 101 in 74 2/3 innings for UBC. He pitched in 14 games, 13 starts and pitched three complete games.
In the NAIA Region I playoff tournament at Simplot Stadium in Caldwell, Idaho, Francis only pitched two innings and 31 pitches. He started the opener and by the time he took the mound UBC was beating Western Baptist 8-0, so Francis was lifted as UBC won 19-3. Francis pitched a scoreless ninth as the T-Birds beat Concordia 9-7 but wasn’t used a third straight day.
9. Was coveted by the Jays, who did not want to draft Loewen, or Phillippe Aumont (Gatineau, Que.) or Brett Lawrie (Langley, BC). They did have a pre-draft deal with Scott Thorman (Cambridge, Ont.) at 33rd over-all — he went 30th. They did want Francis. J.P. Ricciardi made the trip to Caldwell saw Francis’ bullpen and his one inning outing. He was sold.
10. Had help climbing the seventh. Blame outfielder Denard Span. When the Rockies could not reach an agreement with Spahn, scouting director Bill Schmidt chose Francis ninth over-all, five picks after the Baltimore Orioles chose Loewen. Francis was given a $1.85 million US signing bonus and signed by scoutGreg Hopkins. The Blue Jays choseRuss Adams. Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) was selected in the second round by the Cincinnati Reds.
11. Made eight starts (0-0, 1.61 earned-run average) at single-A Tri-City Dust Devils and the Asheville Tourists, His season was cut short when he was hit with a foul ball in the Asheville dugout.
12. Threw the first complete game no-hitter in the single-A California League in six years, facing three batters over the minimum as the Visalia beat the Modesto A’s 6-0. Francis struck out nine, hit a batter, issued three walks, and benefitted from a pair of double plays to earn his first pro shutout. Francis struck out at least one batter in eight of nine innings and stranded five runners — at first — in the first complete game no-hitter in the circuit since Ted Lilly’s no-no for San Bernadino in 1997.
He was the Rockies minor-league pitcher of the month for July going 4-1 with a 2.09 ERA at single-A Visalia. He had two complete game shutouts in five starts and was 8-2 with a 1.83 ERA in his past 13 starts after opening the season 2-7 with a 6.68 ERA. He finished the season 12-9 3.47 ERA.
13. Started 2004 at double-A Tulsa and by July he was 12-1 with a 2.11 ERA. In the past 12 months, he was 22-3 in 33 starts, allowing three or fewer runs in 26 of them, including 16 of 16 at double-A Tulsa this season. Instead, he make two more minor-league starts before his major-league debut Aug. 25 against the Atlanta Braves, the final day of the Olympics.
14. Was scheduled to be Team Canada’s No. 1 starter at the Athens Olympics, he was promoted to triple-A Colorado Springs, where he was 2-1 with an 0.93 ERA in three starts. The Rockies said they would decide ion Aug. 5. Either he’d be in Athens or the majors after his first start at high altitude in Colorado Springs.
The Rockies were 49-62, 16 1/2 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West.
All the sweet-talking by Team Canada and Paul Beeston couldn’t pry Francis loose. While organizations like the Milwaukee Brewers, Seattle Mariners, Baltimore Orioles and the Toronto Blue Jays often had players with the national program, this was Colorado’s first.
Canada lost the bronze medal game.
15. Lost against the Braves 8–1 decision, pitching five innings, allowing six runs (on three home runs), walking one, while striking out eight.
16. Earned his first career victory on Sept. 5, 2004, against the San Diego Padres at PETCO Park, tossing 51⁄3 scoreless in a 5–2 Rockies victory.
17. Was named Minor League Player of the Year by both Baseball America and USA Today in 2004, the fourth player to be honored in the same season by both publications, joining Andruw Jones (1995–1996), Rick Ankiel (1999) andJosh Beckett (2001). Combined between Double-A Tulsa and Triple-A Colorado Springs, Francis went 16–3 with a 2.21 ERA and .194 average against in 24 starts. He struck out 196 batters in 154.2 innings, for a ratio of 11.4 per nine innings. He had more strikeouts than hits (108) and walks (29) combined.
18. Earned a berth in the Rockies starting rotation n 2005, Francis made 33 starts going 14-12 record, with a 5.68 ERA, allowing 228 hits in 183 innings.
19. Married Allison Padfield Dec. 31, 2005 in London, Ont. The couple and their two children spend time living in Denver and London.
20. Took the mound against Mexico with a berth in the second round of the inaugural World Baseball Classic on the line Francis faced 11 men, retiring only four as Mexico scored six off Canada’s best on the way to a 9-1 victory before 15,744 at Chase Field last night.
Francis retired the first two hitters on a two pitches to open the game. Then, he hit Mexicao’s Vinny Castilla on the shoulder with a 3-2 pitch. Boos reigned down from the largely pro-Mexican crowd. It was as if Francis had assaulted a national hero.
Mexico, Canada and Team USA all had 2-1 records, but Canada lost out on run differential.
21. Was on the mound as the Jays visited Coors Field and Toronto coachErnie Whitt, also the Team Canada manager was asked for a scouting report on Francis in 2006. “Well, I saw him … but not for very long … and I don’t think he was at his best.” Francis pitched six innings allowing one run in a 5-1 Colorado win.
22. Recorded his 30th career win beating the Braves 10-9 on Sept. 23, 2006, passing Brian Bohanon to become the left-handed pitcher with the most wins in Rockies history. He finished 13-11, with an ERA of 4.16, more than a run lower from the previous year.
23. He won 17 games for the Rockies, winners of 14 of their final 15 under manager Clint Hurdle. They swept the Philadelphia Phillies — as he became the first Canadian starter to win a post-season game pitching six innings, allowing two runs in a 4-2 Game 1 win over Cole Hamels — and the Arizona Diamondbacks — pitching 6 2/3 innings, allowing one run in a 5-1 Game 1 win over Brandon Webb.
After a week layoff Francis started Game 1 at Fenway Park. He lasted four innings allowing six runs on 10 hits and one walk as the Red Sox won 13-1. Francis allowed a six runs on 10 hits and three walks in four innings. He gave up a home run to Dustin Pedroia in the first, as well as doubles to Jason Varitek, Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and J.D. Drew.
It took 30 more World Series games before two Canucks pitched in the same game. John Axford (Port Dover, Ont.) worked a scoreless inning as the St. Louis Cardinals lost the opener to the Red Sox 8-1 and RP Ryan Dempster (Gibsons, BC) worked one innings allowing a run.
24. Was on the mound as former coach Kelly flew from Vancouver to Denver to check in on his two former players as Morneau and the Minnesota Twins faced Francis in 2008. Asked who he would cheer for, Kelly predicted Francis would strike out Morneau and Morneau would homer.
How many coaches in North America are watching two of their former players square off in a major-league game? How many watching a American League MVP face a 17-game winner?
Morneau struck out on a 2-2 pitch in the first, grounded out to end the third and in the sixth hit a two-run homer on a 3-2 pitch. Francis pitched 6 1/3 innings as his Rockies beat the Twins 6-2 for his first win of the year.
25. Finished 2008 a 4–10 record and a 5.01 ERA in 21 starts, pitching through shoulder soreness for much of the season.
26. Signed a four-year $13.25 million deal with an option for a fifth year Nov. 22, 2008.
27. Underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder on Feb. 25 missing all of 2009 season.
28. Returned to the rotation May 16, 2010, pitching seven innings, allowing two walks and seven hits in a 3–2 win over the Nationals. He pitched in 20 games for the in 2010 posting a 4–6 record with a 5.00 ERA
29. Became a free agent, the lefty switched leagues signing a one-year, $2 million deal with Kansas City Royals in January of 2011. He finished with a 6-16 record with a 4.82 ERA in 31 starts for the Royals.
30. Filed for free agency, again he switched leagues in January of 2012 signing a minor-league deal with the Cincinnati Reds. The contract contained an opt-out clause he could exercise on June 1.
And off he was after pitching a complete game shutout for the triple-A Louisville Bats.
Francis re-signed with the Rockies on June 8 and finished the season in the rotation with an 6-7 mark and an ERA of 5.58.
31. Re-signed with the Rockies on Dec. 19, 2012. He split the season between the rotation and the bullpen, appearing in 23 games making 12 starts, finishing 3-5 with an ERA of 6.27.
32. Signed a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training with the Reds Jan. 13, 2014. He started the season with Louisville, and he was promoted to the Reds on May 15. He allowed three runs in five innings to pick up the loss in his one start for the Reds.
33. Designated for assignment and placed on waivers the next day, he was claimed off waivers by Oakland on May 18. After appearing in nine games, he was designated for assignment on July 3.
34. Was picked up by the New York Yankees a week later. Francis took over in the 14th at Yankee Stadium against the Texas Rangers July 26.
He retired Jim Adduci (Burnaby, BC) and Adrian Beltre on ground balls. He allowed a single to Leonys Martin and then popped up J.P. Arencibia. And when Chase Headley singled home Brian Roberts for the walk-off win, his only win of the season.
It was the 71st of his career, tying him with LHP Erik Bedard (Navan, Ont.) and LHP Rheal Cormier (Cap Pele, N.B.) for seventh place all time amongst Canadian pitchers. Cormier appeared in 683 games, Bedard 241 and Francis 240 (14th among Canadians).
35. Stats guru Neil Munro (North Bay, Ont.) points out Francis has an excellent record as a fielder, having made just one error in his entire career (251 chances). It is very difficult to find a definitive record for the best career fielding percentage by a pitcher. Major League Baseball does not post records for this category at all, and The Sporting News Record Book only gives records for the best single season fielding percentage by a pitcher.
The site baseball-reference.com does provide a pitchers’ career fielding percentage leader board, but it uses a requirement of pitching in 500 or more games to qualify. As a consequence the pitchers at the top of this list are all relief pitchers who have a little over 500 games pitched and hence have not taken many chances in the field. The leader isLuis Vizcaino (who retired after 2009 season) and he had no errors in 83 chances. No other pitcher with 500 or more games has a better fielding percentage than the .995 percentage posted by Francis, who has appeared in 240 games. I have made a preliminary search for a pitcher with a better career fielding percentage than Francis (who has at least 250 chances) but have found no one as yet.
A pitcher’s career fielding average is particularly sensitive to a significant decline when even a few extra errors are made, so I will wait a few years to see if Francis continues his streak of near perfection before engaging in an exhaustive search (or give it up entirely if he is charged with a few miscues in his next few seasons).
36. Can do high-pitched Pee Wee Herman-like laugh when Kelly does the impression and Francis does one back.
37. He signed a minor league contract with the Blue Jays that included an invitation to spring training on Oct. 31.