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News analysis: Francouer gets called backup


News analysis: Francouer gets called backup
Well, that was quick. Only three days and three minor league games after being sent down to Double-A Mississippi, Atlanta Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur was recalled to the majors Monday, July 7.

Francoeur had been sent down to clear his head after a disappointing first half of the season. He is expected to return to the Braves' starting lineup Tuesday, July 8, but should he return to fantasy owners' lineups?

Promising early career

Over the past three seasons, Francoeur had established himself as one of the game's best and brightest up-and-comers. After earning a midseason call-up in 2005, he clubbed 14 homers in 257 at-bats along with a .300 average and 45 RBI, giving fantasy owners a taste of his potential. In 2006 - his first full season - he hit .260 with 29 home runs and 103 RBI at age 22. He struggled to get on base, though, drawing only 23 walks to give him an on-base percentage (OBP) of .293 for the season along with 132 strikeouts. However, Francoeur had established himself as a power threat who could rack up RBI in the Atlanta lineup.

Last season, Francoeur treated fantasy owners to another great season. Although his home run total dipped to 19, Francoeur still had 105 RBI, and he upped his average to .293 and his OBP to .338. He also walked 42 times, showing a better eye at the plate in his second full season, but he still showed his hacking tendencies by fanning 129 times. Though not especially relevant for fantasy owners, he also excelled in the field in earning his first NL Gold Glove Award.

His previous success in the majors, combined with the slightly improved plate discipline he showed last year, gave owners hope that Francoeur could again produce at least a 20-homer, 100-RBI season along with a more stable batting average. Thus far this year, he is well off that pace.

Francoeur has struggled mightily

This season, Francoeur has been a much different player from the one owners expected when they took him on average in the middle rounds of their draft. Sitting at eight homers with 41 RBI and a .234 average more than halfway through the season, Francoeur had shown mechanical flaws in his swing and lost his confidence.

If he plays the rest of this year's games, Francoeur is only on pace for 15 homers and 76 RBI, significantly lower numbers than he put up the last two seasons. He's walking at a slightly less frequent clip than last season - one free pass for every 18.1 plate appearances compared to once every 16.6 appearances last season. He has 62 strikeouts compared to 20 walks in '08. It seems as though his eye hasn't changed much at the plate, though his .234 average is alarming.

Demotion to Double-A

Trying to set Francoeur right in the head, Atlanta sent him down to Mississippi to relax and find his swing. It was speculated that this move could last up to three weeks, with his return to the Braves coming after the All-Star break.

However, placing three injured players on the disabled list - relievers Jeff Bennett (shoulder) and Manny Acosta (hamstring) along with utility player Omar Infante (hamstring) - gave the Braves an opportunity to bring him back sooner than expected. Under league rules, Francoeur normally has to wait 10 days for a return, but the Braves were allowed to recall him since they are replacing players on the DL. They said they decided that three games at Double-A was enough to clear Francoeur's head, and they believe they can transition him back to form while he's hot. In his three games there, he went 7-for-13 (.538).

The Braves felt like Francoeur's early difficulties swinging the bat were in his head, partially a result of the added pressure of trying to perform well for his hometown Braves. Francoeur said that although it was only three games, he "feels like a new guy."

While frustrating for fantasy owners, who never like to see their players get demoted, it seems as though this was more of a quick fix. Francoeur worked on his mechanics and returned to basics with the Double-A coaches, including his former hitting coach and current Mississippi manager Phillip Wellman, who has been one of Francoeur's baseball mentors.

This comes as good news to fantasy owners, who no doubt would like to see better things from Francoeur. They have to wonder if those three games were enough, though.

Fantasy baseball outlook

Francoeur has 30-homer potential and has proven he can surpass the century mark in RBIs. If he shows an improved approach at the plate, Francoeur could give his owners a big second half. Although a three-game stint doesn't seem like enough time to fix a player, a mental break from the everyday grind of the major league season could be more than enough to turn Francoeur around.

Owners in all formats (who didn't pull the trigger and drop him when demoted) will want to hold on to Francoeur. He seems poised to better his stats and prove to the Braves that he is the player they thought he was entering the season. If he's floating on your waiver wire, scoop him up and stash him until he starts showing signs of his old self. It could be worth the wait.


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: July 9, 2008

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