Patience paying off for Francoeur

Welcome back Brian McCann.  When you return to Braves camp today, you’ll be glad to see that your good buddy Jeff Francoeur is once again sporting a genuine smile.  No longer does he have to strain his jaw muscles in an attempt to show his pearly whites. 

The .350 batting average that Francoeur has compiled isn’t nearly as impressive as the manner in which he’s achieved this total and a .417 on-base percentage.  Through 40 at-bats, he’s struck out once and drawn six walks.   Oh yeah, and he has 12 hits in his past 22 at-bats. 

Francoeur’s only hitless performance since March 8 came against the Mets on Sunday, which is when he might have also provided his most telling plate appearance of the season.  Drawing a first-inning walk off Johan Santana only further proved that the 25-year-old right fielder truly has gained more confidence and patience at the plate. 

When pyschologists began labeling personalities as Type A and Type B, they forgot to create a category for high-energy individuals like Francoeur.  Youthful impatience led him to strike out 3.74 more times than he walked during his first 3 1/2 Major League seasons. 

It also led him to alter his batting stance as frequently as Charles Barkley has attempted to change his golf swing over the past few years.  Consequently, there were times last year when Francoeur’s baseball swing looked as helpless as that motion Barkley makes with a golf club in his hand.

Ok. Francoeur never looked that bad.  But he undoubtedly needed to make a chance and more importantly, he needed to gain the patience to stick with his altered approach for an extended period.

In previous years, he likely would have been making alterations after recording just two hits in his first 18 Grapefruit League at-bats.  But this year proved to be different.  While sticking with his altered approach through thick and thin, Francoeur should be able to avoid some of the extended ugly slumps that haunted him last year.

The gang’s all here:  With Javier Vazquez on the mound to face the Pirates tonight, McCann will be behind the plate. He just provided confirmation via the anti-social interview technique provided by text messaging.   

In an attempt to better familarize himself with the new-look starting rotation, the All-Star catcher is going to try to play as much as possible during the remainder of the exhibition season. 

McCann could also benefit from the opportunity to get some regular at-bats.  He recorded just four at-bats before leaving to joinTeam USA on April 1.    Over the course of the 22 days that have followed, he’s registered a total of 23 plate appearances —  includes exhibition games leading up to the Classic.   He’s actually had just 16 plate appearances since March 5.

Gregor Blanco will also return to Braves camp today after spending the past few weeks hitting .400 (6-for-15) for Venezuela.  His performance in the Classic allowed him to at least remain a candidate to serve as Atlanta’s starting center fielder. 

Based purely on performance and upside, Jordan Schafer has seemingly emerged as the favorite to win this position battle.   He’s hit .385 with a 1.093 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) in 11 Grapefruit League games. 

The fact that he’s totalled 42 plate appearances during this span further proves that the Braves are genuinely interested in the possibility of having him start the year in Atlanta.  They’ve also had him participate in two of the intra-squad games that have been played over the past two weeks.

Because he’s out of options, Josh Anderson should still be considered a top candidate in this position battle.  But the .306 on-base percentage that he’s compiled in a team-high 48 at-bats certainly hasn’t helped the speedy outfielder’s cause. 

Anderson appeared to be the club’s best option to place in the leadoff role.  But the fact that he’s drawn just one walk creates cause for concern.  These next two weeks are very important to him and he will at least enter Tuesday with seven hits in his last 16 at-bats.

I’ll post tonight’s lineup when I get it later today.  But it will be nice to see one that includes both McCann and Chipper Jones, who is expected to return to action tonight.  He hasn’t played since feeling a twinge in his right oblique while taking batting practice for Team USA  on March 15. 

By the end of this week, if Garret Anderson’s right calf continues to cooperate, the Braves might actually be able to form a lineup that looks very similar to the one manager Bobby Cox will create for the April 5 opener in Philadelphia. 

We’ve got 10 more days before this show returns to Atlanta and 12 more days before these games begin to count.  But who’s counting? 
        

44 Comments

Mark, did we ever hear what was going on with Jason Perry?

Mark, I just want to thank you for being the eyes and ears at spring training for those of us who can’t be there.
What does your gut and any info you have tell us about the center field job? Do you think that Schafer can be theman there even though he strikes out a lot? Does he need more seasoning in the minors? Looking forward to an awesome year! GO BRAVES!!!!!!!!!!

PW, I will honestly admit that completely slipped my mind. I’ll try to confirm that Jason is teaching somewhere in suburban Atlanta. I will let you know if some team found a spot for him in their farm system.

I’ll carry some of the Ohman talk over to this entry. I sent him a text after Sunday’s game to inform him what O’Flaherty had just done and the response I received once again provided no indication that the Braves have contacted him recently.

There’s no doubt that Ohman is kicking himself for not accepting the contract offers the Braves made him in July and November. I wish I could tell you where he might pitch this year. But right now, I’d have to guess he’s going to wait until a team loses a left-handed reliever via injury.

The Braves still seem content with beginning the season with Logan and O’Flaherty. While O’Flaherty’s line might have been ugly the other day, that’s obviously not indicative of what you’d see during the regular season, when he’d primarily be solely facing left-handed hitters.

It will be great to finally see all of our team in action together. I am just hoping they look as good together as everyone anticipates. There are some very tough decisions yet to be made and they can only be made once we see how all of the pieces fall into place. Position battles in spring are always interesting and this spring has been no different. It is hard to tell who fits where when everyone is not in the lineup. I am thankful I don’t have to make some of these decisions. GO BRAVES!!!!!!!!!!!!

Mark – Thanks for keeping us Braves fan in the know, we’re all anxious for the season to start. I know you’re reaching for fresh material so I was hoping you could provide us with an update on how some of the minor league prospects are looking this Spring (are they at Disney also??). The non-pitchers I’m most curious about are: Eric Campbell, Kala Kaaihue, Cody Johnson, Ernesto Mejia, Jon Owings, Travis Jones, and Matt Young.

The Braves just issued this press release:

Beginning this Thursday, March 26 at 1:05 p.m., CSS (Comcast/Charter Sports Southeast) will air four Atlanta Braves Spring Training games. In the booth on Thursday will be veteran Braves broadcaster Chip Caray and former Braves player Brian Jordan. The game will be replayed the same day on CSS at 7:00 p.m.

The three remaining games (to be televised), March 31 vs. the Houston Astros at 7:00 p.m., April 2 vs. the Astros at 1:00 p.m. and April 3 vs. the Detroit Tigers at 7:00 p.m. will feature Jordan and new Braves broadcaster Jim Powell calling the games.

Tonight’s lineup:
Jordan Schafer CF Kelly Johnson 2B Chipper Jones 3B Brian McCann C Jeff Francoeur RF Yunel Escobar SS Greg Norton 1B Gregor Blanco LF Javier Vazquez P

Is Hanson going tomorrow?

Hanson actually pitched five no-hit innings against a group of Braves Minor Leaguers this morning. He registered eight strikeouts and led Bobby Cox to say, “I don’t think he gave up anything that resembled a hit.”

Hanson also threw first-pitch strikes to 15 of the 21 batters that he faced and issued just one walk.

That’s not surprising any more. He has grown past those guys in a real short amount of time. It would be silly to let him develop bad habits blowing away inferior players for another season. The only ***** in his armor so far is that he has had a fairly high number of guys get on base to lead off innings. If he continues to throw strike one, he is really going to dominate. Thanks for the update.

His blemishes are that he sometimes struggles locating his fastball and his changeup is still developing and only average at this point. He’s showed both of those in camp. However, if that’s his only blemish, fine by me. I’m sure he was locating his fastball at minor league camp today.

As you know, Chipper is back in tonight’s lineup. He also plans to play tomorrow night against the Nationals in Viera…Bobby said that Garret Anderson will likely start playing again on Saturday…McCann also plans to travel to Viera tomorrow to catch Kenshin Kawakami. Kawakami was the only rotation newcomer that McCann caught before beginning his WBC duties. The Braves haven’t decided whether McCann will catch again on Thursday, when Derek Lowe is scheduled to pitch.

Mark, if Schafer was to win out the CF spot, what do you think would be the most likely combo in the 1-2 spots in the batting order? I’m really liking the way the lineup looks today… the first five spots anyway.

I know Schafer has been leading off quite a bit this spring – is that where he fits best?

Any coincidence that Bennett and Carlyle are facing the Pirates today? Could this be an audition?

There’s no doubt that the Pirates are among the teams that could benefit from the addition of Carlyle or Bennett. But I’m not sure they’re the best fit.
There’s obviously still some friction that stems from the belief that the Pirates had agreed to trade Jason Bay to Atlanta last July and then pulled that offer.
But that’s just the business of baseball and Neil Huntington and Frank Wren will continue to do business together if the right deal is in place.
Some of you have wondered whether Neil Walker would be a good fit for the Braves. The fact that he’s a third baseman makes him a logical option. But the Pirates aren’t going to deal one of their top prospects for one of these pitchers.

If Schafer was to win out the CF spot, what do you think will happen to Josh Anderson? We could try to trade him but other teams will probably wait for us to release him and IMO is to good to just release. Unless his .306 on-base percentage start going up a lot he will be no better than a NO. 8 hitter IMO.

I think the Tigers will be talking lots of business with us this and next week. Josh Anderson looks like he would probably go there if Schafer beats him. I could also see us trading Campillo and/or Bennett or Carlyle. For some reason, I think next year’s long reliever will be Kawakami. I could really see us moving him (or maybe even Tim Hudson) to the pen. Call me crazy if you want, but if we don’t go with a 6 man rotation next year, that might fall into place. Even JoJo Reyes might fit that next year.
I also wonder if Smoltz would come back to Atlanta next if he has lots of success this year.

I’ve been looking at the Pirates minor league and the only two that jumped out at me was Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez. But as Mark said it would be hard to do. Unless we add a good prospect in as well.

Darion, I was wondering the same thing about Smoltz. Smoltz, if he has a good year with little problems. He probably will play year to year, although I see him returning to the bullpen after this year. I don’t see smoltz leaving baseball any time soon, if he can’t pitch then he’ll be in the booth announcing games or on a network as an annalist. I would absolutely love to have him in the pen again.

Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes and his Pittsburgh Steelers teammate, Ike Taylor, just threw out the ceremonial first pitch. As they walked toward the mound, a group of fans began the “Here We Go Steelers” chant. Since there’s no cheering in the press box, I reluctantly remained silent.

Mark you mentioned earlier the possibility of some residue leftover with the Pirates Front Office from the Bay dealings last summer.

With that in mind let me ask you about any possible lingering discontent between Wren and Kevin Towers of the Padres.
Reason being the Padres by most accounts are in the market for 3-4 bullpen arms. Could something possibly happen there?

It’d obviously be more complicated than a 1 for 1 swap, but with Pedro Alvarez coming up and Andy LaRoche playing every day this year, Walker certainly isn’t off limits.

Mark are you a Braves and Steelers fan? That’s a rare commodity and if so would make my day. Living in Connecticut I never see that combo, I’m the only one I know.

If anyone cares Andrew Jones went 2-5 with a double so far today.

Man I hope Vasquez has a good outing today, Does anyone know who starts next? and when does Tommy Hanson start?

Cool thank you, I didnt hear them say that but I do think that our AAA team will be very good considering all the the Major league ready players.

LETS SCORE SOME RUNS TO BEAT THIS 1 – 0 DEFICIT

Hey Mark…with how much Jordan Schafer has been playing do you think he is going to win the Centerfield job.? IMO he deserves it he has proven he belongs in the majors. If he is selected will Josh Anderson be included in a trade with one of the pitchers to get a 3B prospect to take Chippers spot?

Wow, Vazquez owns McLouth. 3 out of 6 of Vazquez’s strikeouts belonged to McLouth.

WOW! I will be surprised if Jeff Bennet makes the opening day roster over someone like Will Ohman, If I were Frank I would PAY another team to take him off our roster. Anyone remember when we had a 9 run lead against the Phils and Jeff blew it and lost the game?

I was downstairs talking to Vazquez during the seventh inning and didn’t see Bennett’s struggles. But from what I understand, he basically minimized whatever trade value he had left. His sinker isn’t working like it did last year and one can only wonder if this is a product of the weight that he regained during the offseason.

Classic line from Chipper Jones after going hitless in three at-bats tonight…His former teammate Brian Jordan asked him about his oblique and the veteran third baseman said, “Oblique is fine, swing (stinks).”

Ouch!! So he might have negative value to some clubs and others that might look at him as a gamble.
Is he leaving the ball up in the strike zone, not throwing strikes or whats going on with him?

if nobody wants Bennett in a trade, he can clear waivers and go to Gwinnett and pitch himself back into shape (value)

Soriano allowed two singles to begin the eighth and might have escaped without any damage had Omar Infante not botched an Eric Kratz grounder… He ended up getting three Pirates to look at a called third strikes and two of the punchouts were recorded on a 79 mph slider… The right-handed reliever looked anything but impressive. His fastball rested between 89-91 mph. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he’s still dealing with congestion issues that bothered him at the beginning of camp. But how long can you really deal with such an issue?

Maybe he needs to breathe more life into his fastball?

Bennett for Andruw?? lol. Any Chance?

thanks for the laugh Darion…that was a good one…Bobby said after the game that Soriano will continue to build arm strength. That’s fine and dandy. But if we don’t see an improvement over the next week, i’d have to say there’s cause for concern…let’s not forget, we’re still waiting for Mike Gonzalez to show some of his usual life with his fastball and obviously it doesn’t seem like Moylan will be able to work back-to-back outings during the first couple weeks of the season…some of the optimism i’ve had about the bullpen is suddenly morphing into skepticism.

My thoughts about Schafer remain the same. The Braves are seemingly giving him every chance to win that job. Over the next week, he’s going to see starting pitchers during multiple at-bats and have the opportunity to challenge himself with greater regularity against big-league caliber pitchers. During this span we’ll get a better idea about whether or not he needs more seasoning in the Minors.

What Jeff Bennett brings to the table is not special. There are, I don’t know, maybe 30% of the Major League pitchers and 50% of the Minor League ones who throw exactly like he does with similar stuff. Replacing Bennett is as easy as getting another Hurricane on Bourbon Street. Empty the cup, look up, there’s another place to get one. Command is everything, and he has not shown a lot of that during his time in Atlanta. 3 and 4 walk innings will not be tolerated on this staff, the competition is too strong.

The wife of Jose Tabata, 20, an outfielder and one of the top three prospects for the Pirates was apparently involved in a baby-snatching. Freaking weird!

“Amalia Tabata Pereira, 43, was being questioned by Florida detectives in Manatee County, where the baby girl was found unharmed Tuesday afternoon, a day after she was taken from a clinic.”

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,510420,00.html

Is the person mentioned the grandmother? There has to be more to that story, sad, very sad.

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