Written By: Wrenzie
Follow him on Twitter: @GiantProspectiv
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In the middle of March this year, a few days after the suspension of Spring Training 1.0, the San Francisco Giants signed Javier Alexander Francisco Estrella, or Javier Francisco Estrella, to an international contract.
Javier didn’t exactly make significant headlines but when he was compared to current Padres young star Fernando Tatis, Jr., the whole Giants community widened their eyes a little bit. My curiosity about him only grew ever since the report of his signing. I’ve been watching his videos, old or new, to really get to know him as a baseball player. However, I’ve felt like I am only looking at the tip of the Francisco Estrella iceberg.
In this article, I’ve been given an all-access pass by Francisco Estrella to conduct an interview with him. I’ll take you through his current baseball journey from when he was little up to the current situation that every one of us in the world is currently dealing with: the coronavirus pandemic. Not only was his journey breathtaking, but what blew me away is that he’s done this interview via English without a translator. That’s the first time I’ve talked to a Dominican player that can talk the English language fluently so I greatly commend him with that from someone who only has a little amount of Spanish at my disposal.
Javier is the son of an engineer and an anesthesiologist with two younger siblings, ages twelve and six, whose family resides in the capital city of Santo Domingo. Like most of us, Javier’s family is also a victim of the pandemic, with his mother, the anesthesiologist, being a common fixture in the hospital during the stretch of the pandemic. His mother was actually doing surgery at the time of my interview with Javier.
Like all past and present Dominican baseball players, Javier started playing baseball at a really young age of three, playing with his father, an engineer. Javier’s parents are really serious about providing their children with proper education, Javier included, as well as to learn the English language. Homeschooled, Javier has an English tutor who will come to their house every week ever since he was young. To nurture Javier’s baseball skills when he was still a kid, his father rented a complex and had his son take practice from local coaches.
At the age of 9, Javier played in the Enrique Cruz League, named after a player who is the Dominican baseball Hall of Fame, in Santo Domingo. Other participants in the Enrique Cruz League include Oscar Aude($), who signed for the Rockies for $400,000 in the 2019-2020 international signing cycle, and Randel Mondesi, son of former Major Leaguer Raul and brother of current Major League Raul Adalberto Mondesi.
He then went from Santo Domingo to the city of San Pedro de Marcorís to play in the Manny Acta League, a league formed by the former Cleveland Indians manager. From there, he began to practice in the Tetelo Vargas Stadium, the home of the Estrellas Orientales in the LIDOM, playing in the outfield and in third base.
It was also 9 years old when Javier first got a hold of a wooden bat, younger than the typical age of Dominicans holding a wooden bat for the first time. It was under the tutelage of Mr. Kuki Acevedo, a former scout of the Indians, Phillies, and Rangers that scouted players like George Bell and Julio Franco, that Javier first learned the basics of baseball and was the first time that he went to the city of San Pedro de Marcoris to train.
From there, Ben Badler, the renowned international baseball expert of Baseball America, came to see Mr. Acevedo not only to take pictures with him but also to see the then-10-year-old Javier. Javier fondly remembered what Mr. Acevedo told Mr. Badler about the young Dominican.
“Come see what, for me, will be a good player in the future. It all depends now on how he will develop.”
After a few years, Javier played for the San Geronimo Estudiantes in the Clásico Scotiabank de Pequeñas Ligas (CSDPL) in 2016, with a total of around 160 kids playing in the tournament. Having played at second base, shortstop, and the outfield, Javier stood out in the event, as he led the circuit with hits (7) and doubles (3) and ranked second in batting average (.583).
As a result, he is named as the third hitter of the “ideal team”, the CSDPL version of the All-Star team. Other notable names who are either in the “ideal team” or played in the tournament are Adael Amador ($), who signed to the Colorado Rockies for $1.5 million, Nathanael Cruz, who signed for the Boston Red Sox for $200,000, and Ronny Polanco ($), who signed for the Arizona Diamondbacks for $600,000.
After spending most of his youth playing in third base, second base, and in the outfield, Javier began to entrench himself at shortstop at the age of 12.
Before entering the Fernando Tatis Baseball Academy, Javier’s father contacted Rafael Jimenez, also known as “La Magia” or “The Magician”. Jimenez worked for the Yankees organization for almost 17 years before becoming Javier’s coach, working with former Yankee stars Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, Alfonso Soriano, Eduardo Núñez among others. It is under Jimenez’s tutelage that Javier learned the fundamentals of playing shortstop. When I asked what are the things that “La Magia” has taught Javier, here is his response.
“He (Mr. Jimenez) is one of the best explaining how to field a ground ball to all directions and the exact way to throw to the base. He began to teach me how to hit to right field (the opposite field). He likes things to be done by the best way possible and in all the practice games he always took notes of my mistakes so we can work on them.”
Here is his response when I asked him about what he likes about playing the position.
“What I like about playing shortstop is that I feel free. I feel awesome. I feel that I can do incredible things. I feel like I can be myself. Also, there are plenty of Dominican shortstops (in the Majors), so that motivates me to play the position as well.”
When he was still practicing in the Estrellas Orientales team, Mr. Fernando Tatis, Sr. noticed Javier as he was doing some ground ball drills, and Tatis, Sr. started asking him questions. It was the first time that the two have met and Tatis, Sr. had taken Javier as a student and began practicing with him. When Javier was 14 years old, Tatis. Sr. took him as his protegé.
Also, Tatis, Sr. took him to every home game of the Estrellas Orientales team and was allowed to practice with professional Dominican baseball players in the winter. Once the winter season had finished, Javier would continue practicing his craft in Tatis, Sr.’s baseball academy, and in API Academy of Christian Irizarry.
When I asked about Tatis, Sr.’s impact as a coach, Javier told me that “he is one of the best coaches that I ever had. He knows how to explain things to you, teach you (the fundamentals very well), and is a very good listener.”
“He is very patient and he will give (plenty of his time) to a prospect so that he can give advice when the prospect is analyzing something about his game.”
In 2017, Javier was facing a baseball-related decision that would make or break his pro baseball career. It is whether to stay in the Dominican and go to the international signing cycle or study in the United States and partake in the MLB First-Year Player Draft.
In late-December 2017, Javier participated in the 2017 Perfect Game National Underclass Showcase-Main Event in Fort Myers, Florida. Then 6’0″, 160 lb. infielder didn’t exactly lit the competition on fire, but he still considers the experience as a very pleasant one.
“My experience in (the PG showcase) was really amazing because I had the chance to see share with people from other cultures (from Puerto Rico and from the United States) and see the level (of talent) from the 2020 and 2021 classes. When they knew that I am Dominican, they started asking questions like where did I learn to speak English and why am I in the event. I learned that I had to keep working hard if I wanted to be better than (other prospects).”
Ultimately, the thought of signing in the Dominican Republic as part of the international signing cycle is the better way of getting into professional baseball right away is the reason why Javier chose to come back to his homeland rather than stay in the United States and participate in the MLB Draft.
Ever since he was a child, Javier has been a Giants fan through and through. From the days when Bonds and Kent lead the Giants to the World Series in 2002 to the dynasty of the early-2010s, Javier has seen it all. We also share the same passion for Tim Lincecum, although he sees Brandon Crawford as more of a role model.
Nonetheless, it’s been Javier’s dream to become a San Francisco Giant. So much so that he’s studied the history of the Giants franchise, New York Giants included. Christy Mathewson’s epic three shutouts in the 1905 World Series? Javier knows it. Mel Ott and Carl Hubbell? Yep. Willie Mays and Bobby Thomson? He got it. Aside from the Giants, Javier also fell in love with the vibe of the city and its lovely weather.
Even though there are a couple of teams that are interested in Javier’s potential, it’s a no-brainer that Javier will sign with the Giants, a club that has followed him ever since he was 12 years old. So when the time that he finally signed with the club in the 2019-2020 international signing cycle for $10,000, Javier felt that “a big weight was taken (off his shoulders)” in a mixture of joy and relief that he cried. Money was never a factor for the Francisco Estrellas to sign for the Giants.
“I never cared about how much money I would get or have. My parents have always taught me that is not about money, since money does not guarantee personal happiness in life. So, my reason and my joy is my passion and love for baseball”.
When I asked him about his overall game on the field, Javier is the one who tries to shy away from the spotlight and let the others judge his game.
“Honestly, I can’t talk about myself. But the coaches that I had (Mr. Kuki Acevedo, Mr. Tatis, Sr., Mr. Manny Acta, Mr. Rafael Jimenez, Mr. Irizarry), all of them say that I can understand the game quickly. My swing is fluid, I hit the ball all over the field. At shortstop, I have good movement whether side to side or forward to back, with soft hands and a strong arm.”
It also echoes what Mr. Tatis, Sr. said to Mr. Hector Gomez, a sports journalist, when he described Javier’s game at the time of Javier’s signing.
“He has pretty good hands. He hits a lot, always 2 to 3 hits in each game that we play. Javier Alexander is going to hit. He had an amazing education with an amazing discipline. We (all the scouts and MLB teams) had given $4,000,000 to boys without proper education. With Javier, we don’t have to push him. He is very dedicated to his work. I’m pretty sure that he will be a superstar.”
Being compared to a current phenom is a double-edged sword for some, as it can be both pressuring and rewarding. For Javier, being compared to someone as good as Tatis, Jr. is “an honor”. “I don’t feel any kind of pressure. Every time I am on the field, I just do what I know and not think about that.”, he quoted.
Javier sees Tatis, Jr. as a role model, as he likes how Tatis, Jr. plays the game and also because he practiced with him before. Javier describes the current Padre as “really humble, super funny, and an overall good guy.” The advice that Javier’s received from him is to “keep working hard and (play the game) with love.”
Since Javier currently trains in the Tatis facility, he’s also played with the younger Tatis, Elijah, who signed for the White Sox. When I asked Javier about Elijah, he told me Elijah’s “a very happy and friendly young man who likes to play baseball a lot with a very good natural ability on the game. With all of his abilities, I believe that he will play baseball for a long time.”
The two really loves to compete and feed off each other in the dirt. Whether who field the ground ball better, who threw from shortstop better, who hit the ball better, the two of them really give their all on the field and have formed a great bond as a result of pushing each other’s limits.
Currently, Javier is working his craft either at his neighborhood, where there is a road that is a dead-end that he utilizes to warm up his arm, do some running and take some ground balls, and in the Tatis Baseball Academy.
For his hitting practice, he does “fongueo”, or a self-toss routine, hitting off a tee, off of a pitching machine, and a traditional BP session. For fielding, he is taking ground balls, throwing to all the bases, double play positioning, and other infield drills such as short hop, and catching balls while kneeling. For his exercise, he hits the gym and does routines such as squats, towel drills, the “Karate Kid” drill, shoulder routines, rope routines, scapula routines, medicine ball routines, and running 30-yard, 60-yard, and 90-yard dashes.
Since Javier’s mother is a doctor (an anesthesiologist), he has a wide array of medical professionals that aided his growth along the way. From nutritionists, physiatrists, pediatricians, orthopedists, etc., Javier received plenty of support. He is in a low-dairy diet ever since was 11 years old and is following a diet plan but sometimes, he will slot in a good hamburger and soft drinks (I mean come on, a good burger with soft drinks is really good).
The Giants coaches talked to Javier earlier this year about giving him a Blast Motion equipment but when he was going to enter the team’s academy, the coronavirus pandemic shut down all facilities. As a way to coach him, the Giants coaches instead sent him plenty of instructional videos and is keeping tabs with him every week.
The things that Javier is working his earnest at the moment are his timing on the batter’s box, his gameplan before he steps inside the box, hip-shoulder separation, and improving his bat control through the zone. Currently listed at 6’2″, 176 lb., Javier is looking to add more muscle and strength to his body but he told me that “his goal is to reach a weight that I can still (have good control of my body) and I can do whatever I want in the field.” He also is working to improve his speed, where the Giants coaches gave him drills for agility and lower half strength.
Javier actually has not met any of his fellow Giants prospects in the 2019 international cycle personally such as Aeverson Arteaga, Esmerlin Vinicio, and others in person but the entire class, including him, are doing Zoom meetings regularly.
The entire journey has only just begun for Javier, as he’s still only 17 years of age. However, he’s got the right mixture of raw talent, discipline, and hard work to become an impact player for Giants once he officially steps foot in a competitive baseball setting. He’s very focused and his best days are definitely way ahead of him at this moment.
When I asked about Javier’s goals and dreams, he referred to me to this video about him in 2015:
“My number 1 goal right now is to keep developing, so I can keep moving forward in order to get to the big leagues. To be able to establish myself in that level and transform into a star and get to the Hall of Fame.”
He referred me to that video above because when he was still 10 years old, he said in that video that he would like to be a Hall of Famer someday. Still way too far ahead I must say, but, the sky is the limit for Javier.
When I asked him what is his message to the Giants fans as the interview came to a close, here is what he said:
“To our fans, have a little more patience because our organization is doing a great job with our farm system. We have very good prospects and I hope to God that I’ll keep moving forward so that I can be a part of the Giants’ future.”
Of course, the conversation did not actually end there. I was taken aback by this audio message from Javier where he is actually speaking in English. I’m in constant communication with him and I look forward to following his journey to the big leagues. Future Fernando Tatis, Jr.? I think that’s possible with him.
*All photos and new videos in this article are from Javier Alexander Francisco Estrella. Do credit him and Prospects Worldwide if any photos or videos would be used for future use.
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