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?