Rounding out the known starting lineup (I'm assuming that left field is still up in the air this spring) we turn our attention to the poster boy of the Atlanta Braves, right-fielder Jeff Francoeur. Frenchy is an interesting guy to project. For some reason he brings out some of the strongest opinions among members of the Braves fan base. It was only a year ago when many were projecting that Francoeur would not improve upon his 2006 season, and that he was for all intents and purposes a fluke.
Frenchy silenced some of the critics last year, but he likely didn't silence all of them. The biggest area of improvement for the still 24-year old outfielder was in the patience department. He's been a hacker since the first day he stepped on a baseball field, but last year he was able to tame the inner hacker and raise his on-base percentage 45 points to a respectable .338. He may have done that at the expense of a bit of his homerun power, as he had a 10 HR drop-off. But he almost doubled the amount of doubles he hit the previous year and kept his slugging percentage at just about the same level it was at in 2006. The homerun drop-off also didn't hurt his ability to drive in runs as he bested his career high by 2 RBI.
The interesting result of his give-and-take between power and patience was that his OPS ended up being the exact same as his career average to date. So what Francoeur did in 2007 was to maintain his average production - which I guess is exactly the median prediction of what his season should have looked like. As special as some may think he is, last year he was really just average... for him.
So what will become of Francoeur in 2008? Will he continue his newfound patient approach or will he try to cut it back in favor of more homerun power? Could he be more at ease in a Braves lineup that now features Big Tex as an anchor in the middle of the order? Here is my average but slightly improving prediction of his 2008 season:
.301/.339/.462 with 24 HR, 112 RBI, 41 BB, and 125 SO in yet again a full 162-game season
I just keep remembering that he was 21 when he made his major league debut. He was 22 during his first full season in the big leagues, and through all that he kept his production up at respectable levels. Say what you will about "value over replacement player" numbers, I don't put much stock in such things - the guy still drives in 100 runs a year and scores 80 and hits for decent power, and he's still a young hitter who is learning on the job.
The question many people keep asking is when will Francoeur take that "next step" and become the 30-plus homerun power hitter and anchor of a lineup that many baseball people think he can be. Could it be this year, or do we have to wait another year or two for that to happen? Regardless, all signs point to Frenchy still being Frenchy in 2008, and hopefully that will be good enough to help us to the playoffs.
(Though, this year he'll be married Frenchy... sorry ladies.)