Francoeur Ready To Take Next Step

Jeff Francoeur is the Braves best prospect and is not too far away from the major leagues. With the losses of J.D. Drew, Charles Thomas, and Eli Marrero, the chances for Francoeur to make an impact in 2005 have gotten much better. Bill Shanks talked with Francoeur about his development and his future in an Atlanta uniform.

SHANKS: This season was a challenge for you going to MB. I know that you wanted to cut down on your strikeouts. The injury kind of disrupted that didn't it?

FRANCOEUR: Yea definitely. I know that with the kind of hitter I am, the free swinger that I am, I'm always going have problems with patience with the plate. That's just the way it is. But you know I'd rather be aggressive than have to get aggressive. I've always said that. I want to be that guy that can make something happen and be up there at the end when you need something to happen. If you don't want to be up in that situation, you need to get out of the game. You're in the wrong sport. I live for those situations. I love those situations. Anybody can get up and hit a home run in an 11-0 baseball game. But when it's 2-2 in the 8th inning and you need a run, that's what I want. I've always been aggressive like that. My walk ratio is up. At the end when I got up to Greenville, I think I tried to do too much. I was a little out of whack coming back from my injury. I tried to do a lot. That took away from even more progress. But as far as day in and day out in Myrtle, I feel like I made a lot of strides with patience and swinging at good pitches. Just learning how people are going to pitch me is important. I think I was able to prove after my injury when I went 9-24 to come back and get it going like that again. I had learned how guys in the league were going to pitch me.

SHANKS: Tell me about the injury.

FRANCOEUR: It was tough to deal with, especially when I knew I was getting called up two days later to Greenville.

SHANKS: They had already told you?

FRANCOEUR: Yea. It was really tough. I sat there and talked with Paul Snyder before the game about it. Paul sat there and told me how I was going up. Dayton called me the next day and told me I was going up. It was like, "Geesh, it's kind of stinks." But at the same time you know I think it definitely taught me a little humility and patience. You're always trying to rush to get to the big leagues and get there as fast as you can, and if you're not I think you've got a problem. I think I might have been trying to get there too fast and trying to put too much pressure on myself. I just need to relax and go play ball. I had never really had an injury in baseball that had taken me out maybe more than a game or two. So that was the first time anything like that had happened to me.

SHANKS: Tell me what happened. They had thrown inside to you a lot this year, right?

FRANCOEUR: Yea that team had been throwing at me a lot inside. I understand that. That's part of the game. But there comes a point where you can't control it, something's got to happen too. He let one just fly out of there. I was trying to lay one down. At the same time I just put my bat up in front of my face to try to get out of the way.

SHANKS: So if it hadn't hit your bat, it would have hit you square?

FRANCOEUR: It just nipped my bat. You couldn't even tell. So it just went flush into my cheek. Right away I thought I was blind. I couldn't see for a day and a half out of my right eye. The eye was swollen shut. I could see if I opened it up.

SHANKS: Did it scare you?

FRANCOEUR: Oh yea. Anytime you're dealing with the face or the eye, you're thinking it could cost you the sport that you love. I'm lucky. Another fourth of an inch up and I would have never been able to play again.

SHANKS: When you came back, were you worried about your timing?

FRANCOEUR: Definitely. I was definitely worried about timing and getting back in there and seeing that fastball again. It worked out all right.

SHANKS: How do you look at yourself now? How far away are you?

FRANCOEUR: I think there's a lot of stuff that could happen. I know it's going to be a big offseason to see what the Braves do. Even though it was only 16 games I played in Greenville I hit .197 so it still bothers you as a hitter. My power numbers and RBI were there. I didn't slack off on that. My average bothers me. I'm a .290, .300 hitter. I'm ready to prove that and get back to that number. I'm hoping that at some point here next year to get to the big leagues. That's my goal. My goal is to go to Mississippi, play two or three months there, and kind of like David Wright with the Mets, if I do well and I'm hitting well and depending what Atlanta's doing or whose there, I'd love to go up and play. That's my goal.

SHANKS: So you think you're that close?

FRANCOEUR: I think I'm getting there. I was swinging the bat pretty well before I got injured. I was starting to heat up some and then that happened. So it put me back some. I think I've started to learn a lot. I can tell my swing is getting there. It's getting to where I'm using the same swing every time. Defensively, I feel I'm fine.

Bill Shanks can be reached at thebravesshow@email.com

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