Meet the 2021 Hops Coaching Staff: Extra Coach Juan Francia
Juan Francia rounds up our meeting sessions for the 2021 Hillsboro Hops coaching staff. Like the Missoula Osprey, whom Francia managed in 2019, Juan found himself looking for a new home. While Missoula changed their name to the Paddleheads and became an independent team without a connection to a major league team, Juan found himself still connected to the Arizona Diamondbacks as a coach but no team to call home.
First, there was 2020 and the whole pandemic that shut down all of Minor League baseball. Fortunately, the Hillsboro Hops found themselves in a compatible position for the two to help each other out.
Juan Francia Moves Up
The Hops were the DBacks short season A team for eight years and suddenly found themselves in a position where their level no longer existed. Along with the Rookie leagues, Short Season A was eliminated from Minor League baseball by the Major League franchises. But, through hard work and a solid reputation among the best, the Hops received a new position. One that was two levels higher than they had been since 2013, their first year of existence. In a time of 25% attrition, the Hops found themselves with a solid promotion — two steps higher and two steps away from the big boys.
Enter Juan Carlos Francia. Like the Hops, he took off the 2020 season through no choice of his own. Also like the Hops, Juan is looking for a place to land. Coming to the Hops, Juan is taking three steps upward from the former Missoula Osprey. How did he end up with the new High A Hops? Through that same hard work and a solid reputation, Juan seems like a perfect match for the Hops in the new version of Minor League baseball.
Before the new 2021 season starts, let’s take a look at the road traveled by Juan to end up in Hillsboro.
Where It All Began
Juan entered professional baseball at the age of 17 in 1999 as a part of the San Felipe team in the Venezuelan
Summer League (VSL). A .321 batting average and the promising speed of a future lead-off hitter elevated him to the Gulf Coast League here in the States the following year. For the next eight years, Juan found himself displaying that speed by racking up 254 stolen bases and .279 batting average. After seven years in the Detroit Tiger organization, Juan went down to the Venezuelan Winter League to consider his options. Would he try again as a player or find something outside of baseball? Or would he find another way to stay in the game?
Juan returned and signed up with the Yankees organization. It would lead to the peak of his career as a player. He reached the AAA level playing for the Scranton-Wilkes Barre team in the International League. The man who solely played mid-infielder expanded the positions he could play. Still logging time at shortstop and second base, Juan also spent time in the outfield and third base.
Unfortunately, Juan was released later that year. Juan had been caught stealing almost as many times as he stole a base. But, he wasn’t quite ready to call it a day yet. The next four years found him in the independent leagues trying to work his way back. By 2011, Juan had swung his last bat and wore the glove for the last time as a player. Thirteen years as a professional ballplayer is an accomplishment. Along the way, Juan also made friends.
Playing Days Behind
Those same coaches who saw the young ball player and liked his determined effort also saw, as time passed, the mature ball player who was ready for the next step. His baseball career would be far from over. Juan entered coaching.
The Diamondbacks saw the potential in Juan and signed him to a contract in 2016. First, he coached the DSL DBacks-2 team out of Boca Chica in the Dominican Republic. It only took that one year to make a good impression and Juan was made the manager of the DSL DBacks-1 team for the next two years.
Now, Juan was ready to return to the States. In 2019, Juan kept his managerial title and headed to the Missoula Osprey to run the organization. The Arizona Diamondbacks promoted Juan after a winning season. This time to the 2020 Kane County Cougars as a coach which was a two step jump.
However, fate intervened into most peoples’ lives. Therefore, MLB canceled the MiLB season for everyone from AAA down to the Rookie leagues. But, that coaching staff would remain together for the most part. As a result, the manager Vince Harrison, hitting coach KC Judge and coach Juan Francia find themselves in that same position and combination on the 2021 Hillsboro Hops coaching staff. So, re-united along with their new pitching coach, Shane Loux, all of them are looking forward to putting the year of the pandemic behind them and get baseball going again.
You’ve have read about the Hops new manager Vince Harrison, pitching coach Shane Loux, batting coach KC Judge and now extra coach Juan Francia. Join me next week when I go over the 2021 schedule for the Hops. There is more to look at than almost twice the games.