31. Is Jeff Francoeur ready to be a star?

2005 will be remembered as the season the Braves became Jeff Francoeur's team. The rookie took his hometown by storm with a remarkable debut. Is he ready to be the face of the Braves' franchise? Bill Shanks continues his look at the top 35 questions facing the Braves this season with a look at ‘Frenchy."

Perhaps the appropriate question is: Can Jeff Francoeur remain a star? He already is a star. We could say that the cover on Sports Illustrated proved that, but there's more to it than just that great honor. This kid was destined to become what he has become, and for those of us who knew him before he was the big deal, nothing that happened in 2005 was a surprise.

There are just players that come along every so often that are special - both on and off the field. Jeff Francoeur is a special player. There's no better word to describe him. He's just special.

His critics were worried about his inability to take a walk, and yeah it took him a month to get one. But there's just so much more to Jeff's game than that. You have to judge a player by his total game, and to harp on one negative is a bit silly. I would think when his critics saw him throw out base runner after base runner over and over, they had to feel somewhat foolish about griping about his lack of walks.

The one concern is that fans will expect too much out of Francoeur. We've all got to remember that he'll still only be 22-years-old next season, terribly young for a major leaguer. He's several years away from even being in his prime, and he's still got many more seasons of getting better as a player.

Therefore, to see a player with so much talent, so much potential, and so much charisma, it's exciting to think about what's in store for the future.

When we had the same questions about Andruw Jones ten years ago, we knew he was going to be a great player. Even though he averaged over 30 home runs and drove in close to 100 per season for seven years, fans still wanted Jones to burst out and become a star. He did that last season, but we might not have to wait that long on Francoeur.

That's not saying that we should expect him to be a 50-home run type player anytime soon. That's unfair to place those type of expectations on any young player. But there's little doubt in anyone's mind after watching him play for three months that this kid is going to be a great player.

He's going to be an impact player at the plate, in the field, and especially in the clubhouse. This is his team now. His leadership and energy is contagious, and don't think it wasn't a main reason the Braves got to the playoffs once again.

How good is he going to become when he's got even more experience, when he's been around for a few years? He's going to be very good. It's just one of those things you can see. He's got the "it" that so many people look for - that unexplainable makeup that will give him the extra edge on other players with similar talent.

But what can we expect from Francoeur? Some were concerned after he tailed off later in the season, but did anyone really believe he'd hit .400 for the rest of his career? He was bound to come back to Earth sooner or later. His .247 average in September did put his overall average right at .300, but over the course of a full season, it's going to be interesting to see what he can produce.

Even by just taking his 14 home runs and 45 RBI in 257 at bats and doubling them, you have a player that might put up 30 home runs and drive in 100. And again, for a 22 year old, that's pretty good. If he continues to play fantastic defense, make an impact on the base paths, and put up those kind of numbers, then people shouldn't worry too much about his walk totals. This kid is an aggressive player, and that's part of what makes him so special.

With the debut Jeff Francoeur made on the national stage in 2005, he's set himself up for a terrific career. The pressure will be there, as fans are going to expect him to continue to play at that high level. And this is a player that will thrive in that pressure. He's not going to be perfect, and we should not expect that. But Jeff Francoeur is going to be a star, the type of star that helps his team win. And that's they type every team should look for.

Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional front office philosophies. Email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.

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