06/04/2002 2:39 pm ET
Canadian lefty on fast track?
Francis could move quickly through system
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
Rockies round-by-round picks
DENVER -- By the end of last summer, the idea of becoming one of the highest Canadian picks in the history of baseball's draft stayed on the mind of University of British Columbia left-handed pitcher Jeff Francis.
Well, most of the time.
"When I was away from the stadium, [would] sit down and think about things that could happen, it was kind of distracting," Francis said. "But out on the field, it wasn't distracting at all."
Francis' focus -- not to mention his ability and 6-feet-5, 200-pound frame -- led the Colorado Rockies to select Francis with their top pick, ninth overall, in the 2002 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft on Tuesday morning.
Francis, who has already agreed to terms with the Rockies, became the second-highest Canadian selected in the draft. Adam Loewen, a high school left-hander from Surrey, B.C., was chosen fourth overall by Baltimore.
Rockies scouting director Bill Schmidt said he liked more than just Francis' size.
"We liked all the kids we were considering for that pick, but we like his pitchability -- his feel to pitch," Schmidt said. "We see him as a guy that has the potential to move fairly quickly. We think there is a chance he's going to get stronger."
Francis, 21, went 7-2 with a 1.93 ERA as a junior this past season at the University of British Columbia, but he was on the scouts' radar screen long before.
"We've scouted him as a staff, and he's been a strong player internationally," Schmidt said. "I go back to seeing him coming out of high school, so he's a kid we've been aware of."
Last summer, he went 7-1 with a 1.29 ERA for the Anchorage Bucs and earned Most Valuable Player honors in the Alaska League, a summer league in which players use wood bats instead of the aluminum used in college ball. He was picked up by the Alaska Glacier Pilots for the National Baseball Congress World Series -- the championship of the summer leagues -- and won MVP of that tournament by pitching 14 scoreless innings. He worked 1 2/3 innings in relief in the title game as the Pilots beat the Hays (Kan.) Larks of the Jayhawk League, 3-2.
It was then that Francis began to mull his first-round chances.
"Going up to Alaska, I didn't have any expectations -- I was just hoping to get a chance to play against some other competition," Francis said. "I ended up starting and doing very well. I kept going well and kept going well.
"After the summer, people would start talking about the possibility of going in the first round. Then you have every team looking at you, at every move you make. It's been pretty awesome."
Francis improved his draft possibilities during UBC's annual February trip to Phoenix for games in warm weather. With scouts from nearly every team training in the Cactus League watching, Francis led UBC, an NAIA squad, to a 6-3 victory over NCAA Division I Missouri.
British Columbia might seem like an unlikely place for a baseball hotbed, but Francis said that is changing.
One of his teammates at New Westminster (B.C.) Secondary School, Justin Morineau, was a third-round Minnesota Twins pick in 1999. Morineau, a first baseman, is batting .302 at Double-A New Britain. Former UBC teammate Derran Watts, an outfielder, was a 12th-round New York Mets pick last year. Watts batted .245 at rookie-league Kingsport last season.
Now Francis is hoping to meet the most accomplished Canadian in baseball history, Rockies outfielder Larry Walker, from Maple Ridge, B.C.
"I've never talked to him, never met him," Francis said. "But the chance to one day play on the same team with him is a great honor and a great opportunity."
Rockies drafts under Schmidt are notable for their balance of pitchers to position players and college to high school players, but picking Francis does uphold a tradition. All but two of the Rockies' initial picks in their 11 drafts have been pitchers. Of the 13 players chosen in the first round or as a compensation pick, 10 have been pitchers.
Rockies first-round and initial picks
1993 -- John Burke, RHP, University of Florida
1993 -- Jamey Wright, RHP, Westmoore (Okla) HS
1994 -- Doug Million, LHP, Sarasota (Fla.) HS
1995 -- Todd Helton, 1B, University of Tennessee
1996 -- Jake Westbrook, rHP, Madison County (Ga.) HS
1997 -- Mark Mangum, RHP, Kingwood (Texas) HS
1998 -- Matt Roney, RHP, Edmond North (Okla.) HS
Choo Freeman+, OF, Dallas Christian HS
Jeff Winchester#, C, Rummel (La.) HS
1999 -- Jason Jennings, RHP, Baylor University
2000 -- Matt Harrington, RHP, Palmdale (Calif.) HS
2001 -- Jayson Nix$, SS, Midland (Texas) HS
+ -- Compensation from Atlanta for free agent Andres Galarraga
# -- Compensation from Atlanta for free agent Walt Weiss
$ -- Compensation for not signing first-round pick in 2000
Thomas Harding covers the Rockies for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
Extremely tall, well-proportioned frame. Build like Oakland.s Mark Mulder. Quick, whip-like arm. Releases fastball late. Fastball has natural tail, late sink when down. Hard curve has depth, late short zone bite. Turns over straight change, nasty, late sink with arm speed. Poised. Solid makeup. Lots of first-pitch strikes.