Major League Baseball has announced that Chicago Cubs minor league pitcher P.J. Francescon, an All-Star with the Tennessee Smokies this past season, has been suspended 50 games for testing positive for a second time for a drug of abuse.
Francescon, who just turned 27, was also a MiLB organizational All-Star in 2015, in addition to the Southern League designation. He posted a 1.69 ERA over 53.1 innings at AA this season and got a taste of AAA at the end of the year. His ERA was undoubtedly deflated by an unsustainably low BABIP (.236) and an unsustainably high strand rate (92.0%), but even his FIP was decent at 3.72. He had a nice 23.4% K rate and a 7.9% BB rate, and he was the Smokies’ primary closer.
That is all to say, although not a top prospect, Francescon is still on the radar as a plausible future bullpen contributor, and he figured to pitch with AAA Iowa this season.
But now he’ll have to wait 50 games to do it.
In Reyes’ case, he admitted that the positive test was for using marijuana, and, after getting into the baseball implications, I shared my thoughts on how harsh these penalties are. We don’t know the particulars of Francescon’s situation, but I think it’s only fair for me to be consistent here. With almost all jobs, if you use drugs, and the employer finds out, you’re going to be in some trouble, because the employer has an interest in you performing your job in a certain, clear-headed way. I’m not saying I have any beef with MLB being able to enforce drug-related rules with respect to its players. It’s just that a 50-game suspension in these situations feels off to me. For a minor leaguer, that could be an entire half season or more at a time when every year is so critical for their future. Moreover, it could be coming at a time when the player needs support and baseball the most.
In any case, the deed is done, and hopefully Francescon gets back on the field ready and able in the second half, and gets himself into a position where this isn’t going to continue to be an issue. The Cubs’ deep-down-the-line bullpen depth takes a minor hit, but absent a huge and immediate breakout at AAA, Francescon was not likely to factor into the big league mix any time soon anyway.
Francescon was a 40th round pick back in 2011.