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Francisco puts Escogido near title

Francisco puts Escogido near title

MARGARITA ISLAND, Venezuela -- The standings show that the Dominican Republic's Escogido club is closing in on the 2010 Caribbean Series title. Escogido manager Ken Oberkfell says third baseman Juan Francisco is on the verge of becoming a star.

The two events are related.

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"Juan is a good young player and he's put up good numbers," Oberkfell said. "He started off slow, but he's been playing well lately and hopefully, he continues to do that. He's going to have a pretty good future in the Major Leagues."

Francisco went 2-for-2 with two runs scored and three RBIs in Escogido's 7-2 victory against Mexico on Saturday afternoon at Estadio Nueva Esparta to put the Dominican Republic team in the driver's seat heading into the final day of regulation.

Escogido leads all clubs with a 4-1 record, followed by Puerto Rico (2-2), Mexico (2-3) and Venezuela (1-3). If Puerto Rico wins its next two games and the Dominican Republic loses Sunday, the two teams will square off in a championship tiebreaker Monday. A Venezuela victory against Puerto Rico on Saturday night will give Escogido its first Caribbean Series title since 1990.

"I like the way we are playing and the way we played," Oberkfell said. "Either way, we have to play a game Sunday."

As for Francisco, he has four hits in his last eight at-bats and is hitting .267 in the Series after hovering below the .200 mark for most of the week. Last season, he hit .429 in 14 games for the Reds and .295 with 27 home runs and 93 RBIs in 131 games combined at Double-A Carolina and Triple-A Louisville.

"I have not been in contact with the Reds, but I'm looking forward to going to Arizona," Francisco said. "I'm going there to work hard and earn a job where they want me to be."

The Series has been bittersweet for Dominican Republic first baseman Kevin Barker. On Saturday, he went 1-for-3 with a two-run home. Last season, Barker, 34, hit .281 in 29 games with the Reds, but does not have a contract in any league this year. For his career, Barker has a .249 batting average in 126 Major League games in parts of five seasons with the Brewers, Padres, Blue Jays and Reds starting in 1999.

He was selected by the Brewers in the third round of the 1996 First-Year Player Draft.

"You have to know somebody and as of right now, I don't know the right people," Barker said. "That's the way the game is. Unless you're a big-name player or a first-rounder, you are always fighting. I've put up numbers my entire career, but it's always a challenge."

Barker is hitting .250 in the Series.

"I play hard every day and I come ready to play and that's all you can do as a person and all you can do as a player," he said. "I've had a great career, made great friends and if I leave here and I never play again, I can say I did a good job and played good baseball."

Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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