WTNYAugust 26, 2004
More of the Future
By Bryan Smith

Amidst a solid amount of fanfare, highly acclaimed pitching prospects Scott Kazmir and Jeff Francis made their Major League debuts this week. Both southpaws, and 2002 first rounders, were having dominating seasons for unproductive organizations, and were two of the game's top ten prospects. This is when comparisons between the two end.

Kazmir has been in the eye of a hurricane recently, and not Charley, which tore up south of where Scott now calls home. Instead, he's been in the middle of controversy in New York about the deadline deal that sent Kazmir to the Devil Rays for Victor Zambrano. Mets fans had glorified Kazmir, the short southpaw with the huge arm. Now the fans have turned their energy against the organization, vocally criticizing GM Jim Duquette, as well as trade proponents Rick Peterson and Al Leiter. A 20-year-old with a cannon drawing New York headlines, wow.

That sure ain't Jeff Francis. Chosen by the Rockies ninth overall out of Canada, Francis wasn't known for his radar gun readings. With perfect polish and stellar command, Francis drew significantly less scouts at the University of British Columbia than Kazmir did at his Texas high school. While his 3.47 ERA in Asheville wasn't too attractive to Rockie fans, few had noticed that Francis had closed the season better than anyone in the minors. His star began shining this seaso, when the gangly 6-5 Francis quickly became the Texas League's star. Now, a virtual lock to win Minor League Player of the Year, Francis will be spending his year in the game's worst stadium.

Even their debuts were in sharp contrast. Kazmir opened his Major League career against the AL hits leader in Ichiro, but an otherwise sorry team in the Mariners. Francis began by striking out Rafael Furcal on the division leading Atlanta Braves. Kazmir would pitch five scoreless innings, giving Mets fans even more reason to hate Duquette. Francis would give up six runs in five innings, including three runs in a game not played in Coors. Kazmir threw 16 more pitches than Francis, but struggled more with control, throwing only five more strikes (56 to 51), and two more walks. Francis even showed more dominance, striking out eight Braves to Kazmir's four. Kazmir allowed two less hits, understandable when considering the competition.

Unfortunately, Dell has put my new computer on backorder, leaving me waiting to begin an MLB TV subscription. This unfortunately caused me to miss both games, of which I'll watch at a later date. For Kazmir's debut, I recommend well-written chronicles by Derek Zumsteg, Avkash Patel and our own Rich Lederer. The consensus was that Kazmir had everything scouts had said: no height, a mid-90s fastball, diving slider, and no third pitch. He was said to struggle badly with control, and will likely take his aches and pains in the next month and a half.

Francis, on the other hand, only struggled with home runs. All in all this is just a bad time to catch Chipper Jones, who has hit eight home runs in just 77 August at-bats. Francis helped add two to that total Wednesday, giving up a two-run homer in the first and a three-run homer in the sixth. The first came on a Francis fastball, touted by most scouts at 87-89 mph. Chipper's second shot came on a change that Francis left just a little too high, and Jones took it to straightaway center. But the Canadian showed very solid breaking pitches, which he used often with two-strike counts.

And if asked today, I would guess that these two southpaws will continue to not mirror eachother in the slightest. Francis should pitch well the rest of the season, showing an ERA bloated by this particular start and Coors, where he will make his fourth start. Kazmir should struggle for the Devil Rays, possibly even shut down before the end of the season. But what these two share, more than anything else, is one helluva bright future.

Next on the schedule

Kazmir: Aug. 29 @ Oakland vs. Mark Mulder
Francis: Aug. 31 @ San Fran v. Brett Tomko


If you had to pick between the two which one do you think will have the brighter future?

I'd say Kazmir has better prospects in the next six years since he doesn't have to pitch in Colorado, but of course I'm biased.

Yes, Francis will always face the problem of having bloated numbers because he plays in Coors Field. I think he will be the best Rockie pitcher ever, beating out the Jason Jennings, Scott Elartons and Armando Reynosos of the world. But, being the best Rockie pitcher ever is basically having two seasons with an ERA under 4.00. Assuming he can keep the ball down well enough, those should be attainable.

As for Kazmir, sky is the limit. I think he'll struggle a lot this year, but he has so much potential it's crazy. I've always been one to think he'll end up in the bullpen, but even then, he could be dominant.

Neutral parks, I'll take Francis. As it is now, gimme Kazmir.