Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Let's be Franc(oeur)

The name "Francoeur" carries the implication of being "open-hearted", or kind, honest, loving, caring, or warm. In that spirit, I'll try to be gentle when talking about the young Atlanta Braves' outfielder. In that spirit, perhaps the Braves themselves are showing such incredible patience with their highly regarded prospect.

It's notable that USA Baseball thought enough of young Jeff Francoeur to put him on the World Baseball Classic team. His playing time was limited, but he was hardly an afterthought on the roster. A lot of good players were left off the team so he could be there. After the disappointment of the US performance in the WBC, players rotated back to their professional clubs and dove back into their Spring Training regimen. Francoeur joined the Braves and was almost immediately inserted into their exhibition game lineup.

In the first 5 games of Spring Training competition for the young outfielder, he batted 9-13, a .692 clip. It seemed that he was ready for a full year of Major League play, and a breakout season. His struggles in the last month of the 2005 campaign were forgotten, and a fresh start had Braves' fans looking forward to his presence on the Big League club. That's when things turned ugly.

On March 24th, in a tune-up game against the Washington Nationals, Jeff Francoeur went 3 for 3 with a run and an RBI. The Bravos dropped the contest 4-2, suffering defeat at the hands of Alfonso Soriano's 3 run shot against Tim Hudson in the 5th inning. For the remainder of Spring Training, a total of 7 games, Francoeur went hitless at 0 for 15. Enter the regular season.

To date, the Braves have played 9 regular season contests and sit a disappointing 4-5. The team that has dominated the NL East for 14 consecutive seasons seems to be ready to relinquish the crown to one of their long-suffering division rivals, perhaps the Mets. Francoeur problems have become the poster for those struggles and he has posted a dismal 3 for 37 (.081) in those 9 games. If we look at the larger body of work, Jeff Francouer is a combined 3 for 52 (.058) in his last 16 games. For a young player, that kind of prolonged failure is a dangerous blow to one's confidence. Many Braves fans, and this Yankee fan, have to wonder if a short trip to AAA Richmond wouldn't do him some good. A few consecutive games against minor league pitching may help him get off the schneid and get him back in the right frame of mind to contribute to the Major League club.

Have heart young man. Better days are ahead.