Posts Tagged ‘Jeff Francoeur

05
Apr
10

Jason Heyward: Welcome to the Big Show!

The wait is finally over.

After capping his meteoric rise through the Braves farm system with a monumental spring training performance, 20-year-old rookie sensation Jason Heyward will make his Major League debut in right field for the Atlanta Braves on Opening Day today against the Chicago Cubs at Turner Field.

Atlanta’s latest homegrown talent will open the book on what promises to be a long and illustrious career in front of his family, friends, and giddy new fanbase.

“J-Hey Fever” has reached epic proportions around the Atlanta area as of late, and today fans will finally get to usher in the Braves’ new phenom to the Big Show.

Bobby Cox put to end any potential speculation or suspense when he announced Heyward’s addition to Atlanta’s Opening Day roster early on March 26.

While, the announcement was one of baseball’s worst kept secrets, typically Cox tends to wait until the completion of spring training before making his final roster moves.

The decision to inform Heyward in advance that he made the team just goes to show how strong an impression the youngster had made on Cox and the deep level of respect the skipper already has for his new right fielder.

Heyward took the news in stride— not hooting and hollering like most 20-year-olds would after receiving the news that they’ve been pegged the new starting right fielder for one of the winningest and most successful franchises in baseball history.

That’s just not his way.

His reaction—calm and poised— is much like the way he goes about his business on and off the field.

J-Hey is a gentle giant of sorts. His monstrous 6’5, 245-pound stature and deep voice seem to contrast with his cool demeanor, eloquence, and class.

Heyward will wear No. 22 in honor of his former high school teammate, who was killed in a car accident.

He is just the kind of kid you root for.  He is worthy of being the hero-type figure young fans hope to emulate.

The five-tool talent is every bit the legend on the diamond that he’s been made out to be.

Heyward was named Minor League Player of the Year in 2009 by both Baseball America and USA Today and was dubbed the No. 1 overall prospect in baseball by numerous experts and media outlets.

The towering home runs he smashed this spring, with one traveling 50 feet out of the park and literally into the sunroof of Assistant GM Bruce Manno’s car, only added to his storybook tale.

While Heyward’s power, strength, and size have garnered him the most attention with Chipper Jones comparing his body mass to that of Jevon Kearse he’s proven to be agile enough to cover tremendous ground in the outfield, while possessing a cannon for an arm, making him all the more impressive.

But, what I believe makes J-Hey stand out from the hundreds of other highly touted prospects most notably, Braves former right field “phenom” Jeff Francoeur, who also made an early and much hyped ascent to the Majors is his unparalleled patience at the plate.

Unlike Francoeur, Heyward does not swing for the fences and will gladly take the walk.  His balanced swing is one that many young hitters aren’t yet equipped with, and his approach at the plate is wise beyond his years.

This kid is the total package, which makes it not surprising that he’s already been compared to the likes of Willie McCovey and even Albert Pujols.

While, there is no doubt a great level of pressure and hype surrounding Heyward, his off the charts makeup ease any concerns the Braves might have had regarding their young star’s much-anticipated debut.

I caution Braves fans to not panic when J-Hey looks human or even overmatched at times, because the kid is learning on the fly, and their will be ups and downs over the course of a long and arduous 162-game season.

But, it is Heyward’s maturity and confidence that will help him endure those normal struggles associated with making adjustments at the Major League level and will also prevent him from crashing and burning at the first sign of adversity.

Many anticipate Heyward will succeed Chipper Jones as the anchor of the Braves offense for the next decade while becoming the new face of the franchise when Jones retires.

There is no one more excited about this prospect than Chipper himself.  Jones will mentor Heyward this season and believes J-Hey is the best 20-year-old he has ever seen.

In his opinion, the power-hitting lefty is already leaps and bounds ahead of a young Andruw Jones, who made his debut amidst similar pandemonium at age 19.

Chipper also believes makeup wise, Heyward is better suited to handle the spotlight than even he was when he came on the scene in 1995.

While Jones admits to being “brash and cocky” as a rookie, he sees no signs of that in Heyward.

In fact, his laid-back demeanor and borderline-introverted personality could help serve him quite well in an attempt to ignore the growing circus that surrounds him.

Heyward finished spring training with a .305 batting average, 10 walks, and a 4.23 on base percentage.

The question was never will Jason Heyward be in right field for the Atlanta Braves?  The question was always when?

His time is now.

The Jason Heyward Era is officially upon us…just beware of where you park your car.

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09
Dec
09

More Winter Meetings chatter… The Braves try to wheel and deal

Free agent OF Xavier Nady

It didn’t take long for the Braves to receive permission from Rafael Soriano’s agent that his client would approve a trade.

Shortly after accepting the club’s offer of salary arbitration, Peter Greenberg informed the Braves that Soriano preferred to remain a late-innings reliever in 2010.

When told that those roles had already been filled by Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito, Greenberg gave Wren a list of teams that Soriano had discussed signing with before deciding to accept the Braves’ arbitration offer.

The Astros, Red Sox, Yankees, and Orioles were believed to have shown interest in Soriano with the Angels emerging as a new suitor for the right-hander this morning, according to FoxSports’ Ken Rosenthal’s twitter.

Atlanta has received a plethora of calls regarding Soriano and were believed to have met with at least five clubs on Tuesday about him.

Wren expects the Braves to move him soon — possibly before the Winter Meetings conclude on Thursday, or within the next week to ten days.

Besides fielding calls regarding Soriano, Wren also spent a great deal of Tuesday discussing possible destinations for RHP Derek Lowe.

While the team still feels confident they can move Lowe over Javier Vazquez, as they desire, they now have reason to believe that the outfielder and/or first baseman they are seeking will not come through the trade market.

More than likely, the trades of Soriano and/or Lowe will net the Braves a group of prospects.

Atlanta has been reportedly searching for more depth at shortstop as they believe their farm system lacks insurance possibilities at that position, in the event that Yunel Escobar goes down with an injury.

The level of prospects or return the Braves receive for Lowe will depend heavily on how much of his salary the club is willing to eat.

As for Wren’s continued search for offensive help, the Braves GM feels that his outfielder/first baseman is likely to come from the current pool of free agents.

The Braves and Xavier Nady have expressed mutual interest in bringing the free agent outfielder to Atlanta.

Wren had interest in acquiring the 31-year-old Nady in 2009 before he was traded to the Yankees. Nady’s health is also an issue as he is coming off of Tommy John surgery. The club will further evaluate his offseason progress to alleviate any lingering injury concerns they may have before signing him to a contract.

During the ’07 and ’08 seasons combined, Nady hit .293 with 45 home runs and posted an .840 OPS.

The Braves also announced Tuesday their decision to designate OF Ryan Church for assignment to make room for Soriano on their 40-man roster.

The club had received minimal trade interest in Church over the past week, but if not traded, Atlanta had planned to non-tender him by Saturday’s deadline.

Soriano’s decision to accept arbitration forced the Braves to make this move sooner than anticipated.

Church, who was acquired by the Braves in a July 10 trade involving beleaguered RF Jeff Francoeur, hit .260 with two HR and 18 RBIs in 44 games during his tenure with the club in 2009.

By designating him for assignment, the team now has 10 days to trade or release the oft injured Church.

The Braves also discussed adding utility player Ross Gload to their bench yesterday before Gload and the Phillies agreed to a two-year contract.

Scouting reports on Gload praised his strong defensive skills, which propelled the Braves’ interest, but his lack of power was worrisome to a team who is looking to add more pop to its lineup.

As the Braves look towards today, the last full day of meetings, they will continue to search for potential destinations for Soriano and/or Lowe.

The club’s beat writer Mark Bowman reported on his blog that Wren mentioned at least one team had interest in dealing for both pitchers.

Bowman believes the division rival Phillies or Mets could be the mystery team, but the chances of Wren dealing his impact players to his chief competition are slim to none.

The team’s thinking on Nady, if signed, is that he will serve mainly as Atlanta’s first baseman with the versatility to spot start in the outfield, if needed.

Martin Prado, the club’s projected opening day second baseman, could see time at first base when Nady is manning the outfield.

While super utility player Omar Infante could play almost any infield position, the team may look to add another middle infielder later in the offseason to increase depth in that area.

Bowman also speculates that with the Yankees closing in on a deal for OF Curtis Granderson, that they could make Nick Swisher available.

The Braves had interest in Swisher last season and the hard nosed outfielder would surely bring a great level of intensity and much needed spark to Atlanta’s offense.

Swisher, who could also play the outfield or first base, would provide the Braves with the same level of flexibility as Nady.

Former Brave Mark DeRosa could be a potential fall back option for Atlanta, but only if his price tag drops considerably.

Wren will continue to explore these options and more as he further assesses his club’s needs going forward.

02
Jun
09

Observations of the Braves from my trip to Chase Field…

Kelly, Me, Emily, Erin, and Shannon on the field in AZ after the Braves opening night loss to the D-Backs

Kelly, Me, Emily, Erin, and Shannon on the field in AZ after the Braves opening night loss to the D-Backs

I had my first opportunity to check out the 2009 Atlanta Braves live and in person when they traveled to Arizona to face the Diamondbacks May 28-31st. I have lived in AZ for the past 5 years so Chase Field has become my go-to ballpark to see the Bravos. This season I was fortunate enough to have the Braves in town for a four-game series. Hotlanta split the series 2-2 with the Snakes and I ended up coming away with some positive, negative and suggestions for improvement for the team going forward. Here’s a breakdown of the good, the bad, and the ugly from the desert:

The good: Atlanta’s starting staff continues to impress and keep the team in close games. Derek Lowe gave up 5 runs in the series opening loss, although only 3 of those runs were earned, after Kelly Johnson botched a grounder that allowed for a big inning that ended up deciding the ballgame. Despite the fact that Lowe wasn’t as sharp as he’s been for the majority of the season, he was still able to bear down, gut it out and minimize any further damage after the Johnson error sparked a four-run 4th, which kept the Braves within striking distance.

In Game Two, Jair Jurrjens was the recipient of a rare offensive explosion from the Braves and picked up the “W” in the Braves 10-6 victory. While Jurrjens was handed a 10-1 lead after 3 1/2 innings, he did appear uncomfortable pitching with such a large lead. This happens to many of the game’s best pitchers who often thrive off of pitching in tight situations. But for Jurrjens, who has been coined the Braves hard luck loser this season after putting up some mighty impressive numbers, this win helps balance things out a bit.

In Game Three, Javier Vazquez looked strong putting up zeros for six innings against the D-Backs, keeping a 2-0 lead intact after escaping a sixth inning jam unscathed. However, he finally ran out of gas in the seventh when Chris Young tied the game with a pinch-hit single. While the Braves ended up losing in heartbreaking fashion 3-2 in the 11th, the club couldn’t have asked for anything more from Vazquez. His gutsy outing deserved to be capped with a win.

In the finale of the series, Braves rookie Kris Medlen looked solid, picking up his first major league win, allowing one run on four hits with nine struck outs in six innings of work. Medlen was making his third big league start in the fifth spot of the Braves rotation after Jo-Jo Reyes went down with an injury. Reyes was filling in for a rehabbing Tom Glavine, who after a recent strong five-inning effort for Triple A Gwinnett appears to be close to returning to the Braves rotation. The return of the veteran Glav is sure to make an already deep Braves rotation that much deeper.

The bad: The Braves offense remains inconsistent and spotty. After looking stagnant in the series opener, they exploded for 10 runs in game two to illicit hope amongst the frustrated Braves faithful. However, true to form they followed up that offensive outburst with only two early runs in their eventual 3-2 extra inning loss. To make things even more disconcerning, they scored the 10 runs in game two in the first four innings before being blanked the rest of the game. Then, despite jumping out to an early 2-0 lead in game three, the bats were then silenced again for the remainder of the game, wasting Javier Vazquez’s strong effort. The nine runs the Braves accumulated in the series finale against Arizona had fans and management scratching their heads as to why this team can’t consistently put up runs to support their underappreciated starting staff.

The ugly: The Braves lack power, especially in the outfield, which is a large reason why the offense has stumbled.

The culprits: Rookie center fielder Jordan Schafer and right fielder Jeff Francoeur. On Monday, before the Braves opened a homestand at Turner Field against the Chicago Cubs, Atlanta sent Schafer down to Triple A Gwinnett. Schafer is hitting only .206 on the season, but what is more alarming is his 63 strikeouts, which rank as the fourth highest in Major League Baseball. The Braves recalled Gregor Blanco from the minors to take Schafer’s place for the time being and hope he will be able to provide a lift to Atlanta’s sagging offense. As for Francoeur, he has been hovering around .250 for the past month and still appears lost and often overmatched at the plate. Frenchy has only gone deep four times this season, which has contributed largely to the Braves power drought. Braves GM Frank Wren must be listening to trade offers for Francoeur but whether the team deals him or not depends largely on what they could garner in return. Francoeur is still young and talented and for a team that is struggling to find offensive production, it wouldn’t be wise to subtract a bat without replacing it with an upgraded one.

Suggestions for improvement: I think the Braves absolutely, positively HAVE to add a power bat to the outfield before the July 31st trade deadline. There are rumors circulating that the team is looking at bringing Mark DeRosa back to Atlanta. I don’t know if that’s necessarily the right move, but it is encouraging to know that the team is looking for ways to bolster their offense. Pitching keeps teams in the race and the Braves have the arms to continue to do so. But, if Atlanta hopes to make a legitimate run at what appears to be a wide open NL East, they need to greatly improve their offense.

For those frustrated fans who have already thrown in the towel, I offer these words of hope. Before June 2nd’s game against Chicago, the Braves find themselves in third place only 4 1/2 games behind first place Philadelphia. We aren’t even at the All-Star Break folks. There is A LOT of baseball to be played. The Braves benefited greatly over their run of fourteen consecutive division titles from a strong starting rotation and a deep pitching staff. In the playoffs, pitching is often what carries a team far and if a staff gets hot at the right time, anything is possible. If the Braves can find enough offense to at least supplement their staff, they have just as good a chance as any team of playing October baseball.

26
May
09

Is Frenchy’s time up?

Me and Jeff Francoeur in Pittsburgh, Aug 2006.

Me and Jeff Francoeur in Pittsburgh, Aug 2006.

“The Natural’s” name is circulating in trade rumors?

Oh, how the tide has turned.

When Jeff Francoeur broke in with his hometown Braves in July of 2005, he was instantly labeled the next Chipper Jones. He was touted the “golden boy” that was going to help usher the next wave of top tiered Braves talent into Atlanta.

Francoeur or “Frenchy,” as he is affectionately referred to by his teammates and Braves faithful, got off to a monster start. He hit a 3-run home run, which was his first major league hit, in his big league debut. He ended up hitting .300 with 14 home runs and 44 RBI in 67 games his rookie season, which helped him finish 3rd in the Rookie of the Year balloting.

In the midst of his hot streak came numerous accolades, including the infamous August 2005 cover of Sports Illustrated where Francoeur was referred to as “The Natural.” What at the moment seemed like a precursor for a successful major league career, now seems like the beginning of a nightmare jinx that seems to have followed the Braves right fielder.

Francoeur’s fall from grace was about as quick as his rise to fame. In July of 2008, mired in the worst slump of his career, Frenchy was demoted to AA Mississippi to work on his swing in an effort to improve on his unsettling .234 batting average.

To say Francoeur’s stock had fallen was an understatement.

A move like this by Braves management was unprecedented and sent shockwaves throughout the city of Atlanta. A team that is known for being fiercely loyal and supportive of their players even during the hardest of times was sending a message to their young outfielder.

No one, not even “The Natural,” is untouchable.

Francoeur was recalled to the majors just three days later after a series of Braves injuries, but his slump continued and he ended the season with a .239 average.

Coming into the 2009 season, many around baseball viewed this season as Francoeur’s turning point with the Braves.

How much longer was Atlanta willing to be patient?

It seems we may have our answer.

In 66 at-bats this month, Francoeur is hitting a miserable .197 with a .214 on-base percentage and a .273 slugging percentage. On the season he is hitting just .259 with only 3 home runs. The decrease in power from Frenchy is startling and has severely stunted production from the Braves outfield.

Yes, Francoeur is only 25, and yes, there is still a great chance he could rebound and find the stroke that garnered him such praise early in his career.

However, for the Braves and Frenchy, a change of scenery could be in the best interest of both parties.

Atlanta may choose to explore possible trade options for Francoeur with the deadline approaching in July. But with his stock so low, could the Braves even get a decent return at this point?

Shocking to even ponder such thoughts but it’s something the Braves brass may have to do in order to improve their sputtering offense and allow them the opportunity to stay in contention for a playoff spot this season.




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