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2002 First-Year Player Draft - Player Profile
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Canadian lefty blossoms into solid prospect
By Spencer Fordin

school position video
  British Columbia   LHP   56K | 300K
bt ht wt dob class
  L/L   6-5   200   01-08-81   SR
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.
TORONTO -- When it comes to measureables, Jeff Francis fills out a scouting report like few other prospects. The 6-foot-5 southpaw throws a low-90s fastball with impeccable control. Here's the most impressive part: he's also an honors student who majored in physics at the University of British Columbia.

"Some of the courses he's taking are unbelievable. I can't even spell them," said Terry McKaig, his coach at UBC. "He's an academic kid and he has a great head on his shoulders."

How does that apply to baseball? It proves that he's not afraid to work hard, that he won't shy away from a difficult challenge. Francis isn't the kind of player who will go out there and just try to rely on his natural talent. He will study the game, he will give himself the best chance at success.

"A lot of people don't understand what I study, but I think it's interesting," Francis said. "Being a student helps a lot of ways. I don't apply physics to baseball, but it helps you be able to focus."

When he came out of high school, Francis wasn't a highly regarded prospect. He wasn't drafted, not even as a late-round flier. He only threw fastballs in the mid-80s and hadn't yet grown to his current height.

One thing, though, was constant. He was still an exceptional student and even entertained ideas of attending an Ivy League college. In the end, the high cost of an American education and the overwhelming distance from his home convinced him to attend UBC. That way, he could stay close to his family, get a top-notch education and still pursue his baseball dream.

That type of pedigree is important to talent evaluators. They can sit around and argue about baseball skills all day, but the intangibles are generally black-and-white.

"Those types of special people are the kind that you want to hang your hat on," said Kevin Briand, a scout and manager of amateur baseball for the Blue Jays. "You know that your investment is going to be well worth it because they're going to give you everything they have."

"He's a real student of the game. You just don't see that at the college level," McKaig said. "Scouts want dirt on him and I say, 'Hey, you're going to be looking for a while.'"

2002 First-Year Player Draft
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On the field, you don't have to look too far to understand why Francis is an intriguing candidate for a first-round pick. His statistics are simply eye-popping, even considering he played at an NAIA school.

His freshman year, before his sudden growth spurt, was an ordinary rookie campaign. Five inches, 15 pounds and 8 mph later, Francis was a bona fide Canadian legend. During his second season, he threw six shutouts. At one point, he threw 46 straight scoreless innings.

When it was all said and done, he had posted one of the best seasons in the history of college baseball, even if only a few people noticed in the United States. Francis went 12-3 in that campaign with an incredible 0.92 ERA. Yes, you read right -- 0.92, in almost 100 innings pitched.

"That's something that we'll never see again, especially with aluminum bats," McKaig said. "It's kind of mind-boggling, that a pitcher with that many innings could have an ERA under 1."

"That season was amazing," Francis said. "I still look back and wonder how I did that."

Even with that phenomenal season, McKaig had to make a tremendous amount of phone calls to get Francis involved with a summer league. Finally, he managed to get him enrolled in the Alaskan League, which is roughly similar to the Cape Cod.

It's a wooden bat league, designed only for professional prospects, jam-packed with Division I players. Did Francis hold his own there? He did better than that -- he was named the MVP.

"It was huge to be able to compete and succeed against the top hitters in the country," he said. "I think that I proved to the scouts that I could compete."

"It's kind of mind-boggling, that a pitcher with that many innings could have an ERA under 1."
-- UBC coach Terry McKaig
That's a tremendous understatement -- Francis didn't just show up on the radar, he scrambled all the signals. He's been regarded as a sure-fire first-round pick ever since. The soft-spoken Canadian native was blitzed by publicity and interview requests, even though he still had his junior year to take care of.

He handled that in fine form. Francis went 7-2 with a 1.93 ERA. Opposing hitters batted just .171 off him, an impressive stat no matter what league he plays in. Finally, after months of anticipation and an entire lifetime of dreaming, the big day is drawing near.

"I'm getting more and more nervous every day," he said. "I'll probably wait by the phone with my family."

"I was just expecting to compete," Francis said of his college experience. "It's taken me further than I ever imagined."

So, what's the best educated guess? How long will it take him to make the Major Leagues, if in fact he ever does? Francis didn't feel comfortable putting a time-frame on it, but his coach was willing to hazard a casual prediction.

"I really think he has the ability to be there within three years," McKaig said. "He has some things to work on, but he's the best that I've coached, for sure."

Spencer Fordin, who covers the Blue Jays for, can be reached at This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.