The Blue Jays need to find a way to use Bowden Francis in the big leagues this season

Photo credit:© Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports
Tyson Shushkewich
1 month ago
The Toronto Blue Jays have a problem that every team across the big leagues would likely want to be in – at least six to seven arms that could feature in a big league rotation but only five spots are available. For players on the cusp of breaking into a rotation spot such as Bowden Francis, this presents some challenges for the right-hander even if his on-field performance is standing out.
Heading into the 2024 campaign, the Jays have four of five rotation spots locked up for Kevin Gausman, Chris Bassitt, Yusei Kikuchi, and José Berríos; a quartet of veteran arms that helped propel the pitching staff to be one of the tops in the Major Leagues last season. The fifth spot is where things get interesting, as former top prospect Alek Manoah struggled mightily last year and isn’t necessarily guaranteed a role in the rotation at this time, leaving the spot officially up for grabs. General manager Ross Atkins said earlier this offseason that the club plans to have Manoah in their rotation plans this season and beyond but if he continues to struggle this spring (and is now dealing with some shoulder soreness), the door appears to be open for someone to earn the spot over the former Cy Young finalist.
Enter Bowden Francis.

Bowden Francis is starting to emerge as a candidate for the Blue Jays fifth rotation spot

Acquired during the 2021 campaign as part of the Rowdy Tellez trade with the Milwaukee Brewers, Francis made his big league debut with the Blue Jays in 2022 (one inning of relief) but played a much bigger role for the club the following campaign. While he hit the injured list early in the season while in triple-A, Francis rode the options bus for the Blue Jays all season long when healthy, finishing the year with 36 1/3 innings out of the bullpen.
Through 20 appearances, the Florida native produced a 1.73 ERA with just seven earned runs allowed while finishing 11 games and adding his first big league save to the resume. He produced an 8.7 K/9 while limiting the free passes (2.0 BB/9) while pitching bulk innings, with every outing being at least one inning or more outside of a one-out appearance in August against Baltimore. Out of all 20 appearances he made, he only allowed an earned run through six of them.
So far this spring, Francis has appeared in two games for the Jays, one starting against the Yankees on February 25th and the other coming via relief against the Atlanta Braves this past weekend.
The Yankees tagged Francis for two earned runs off of four hits but his pitches were working well, with the right-hander boasting a mid-90s fastball that was flirting with 96 MPH. His curveball was also on display, creating a solid velocity range with his fastball of roughly 15-20 MPH less and generating three swinging and called strikes. His second outing against the Braves went even better, as he appeared in 2 1/3 innings of relief and held the Braves hitless with one walk and three strikeouts, including Ozzie Albies, Orlando Arcia, and former Blue Jay Jordan Luplow. He put a little bit more behind his fastball, hitting the 97 MPH mark in the contest and generated seven swings and misses on the day, the most among all pitchers featured in the game.
The Bronx Bombers may have put up a crooked number on Francis but so far this spring, the former Brewers prospect is putting together a strong resume that should have him being considered for the Opening Day roster.
The biggest question mark remains on his role, as the Jays have used him in a relief capacity in the big leagues but have primarily used him as a starter in the Minor Leagues, similar to how the club is approaching the upcoming season with the 27-year-old. He, Mitch White, and newcomer Yariel Rodriguez are all following the same path in gearing up as starters for the upcoming campaign, which makes sense given the club’s lack of upper-level starting depth that is ready should an injury befall one of the core rotation arms.
With this in mind, there is a solid argument in place that Francis should be on the club when they take on Tampa Bay on March 28th, whether that is in the rotation as the fifth starter or in the bullpen as a middle relief/long-man role. It ideally makes more sense to have Francis work as a starter moving forward considering his four-pitch arsenal and his ability to go multiple innings, although he is in tough for a role in the rotation if the organization has Manoah in mind for the spot and Francis could begin the year in triple-A continuing to be stretched out, waiting for an opportunity. There is an argument to be made that Francis should be the club’s fifth starter to begin the year, especially since Manoah and Rodriguez are both dealing with some minor injuries and Manoah’s first spring outing was not strong as well, but there are still a few weeks left before Opening Day that could see the tides turn depending on how either pitcher fares.
Should Francis continue to have strong outings, utilizing his fastball and three different offspeed pitches to generate soft contact and keep runners off base, it will be hard for management to send him down to Buffalo especially since the Jays are looking to make the postseason for a third consecutive campaign in a tough AL East division. Lots can happen between now and March 28th but so far, Francis is doing all the right things.

Tyson Shushkewich is a contributor at the Blue Jays Nation. He can be followed on X or Instagram at Tyson_MLB or reached via email at Tyson_MLB@hotmail.com



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