07 Jul

just a reminder

A product of an Atlanta-area high school, he made the jump from Double-A Mississippi at the age of 21, took a starting outfield job with the Braves and proceeded to astonish at the plate and in the field. No, not Michael Harris II. This is about Jeff Francoeur, who made his big league debut on this date in 2005. Seventeen years later, it’s easy to forget just how good Francoeur was that summer. With all due respect to Harris, Atlanta’s current rookie center fielder, his numbers pale in comparison to Francoeur’s. Through 36 games, Harris is batting .300 with five homers and 19 RBIs. Through his first 36 games in 2005, Francoeur — who homered in his July 7 debut at Turner Field — hit .353 with 10 homers and 30 RBIs. Harris has had an impact with his defense, but so did Francoeur, who was an outstanding right fielder in his prime. Francoeur landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated, which was a weekly publication at the time, on Aug. 29, 2005. The headline called him “The Natural.” Francoeur went on to hit .300 with 14 homers and 45 RBIs in 70 games for the ’05 Braves, who won the National League East. He had some good years after that, and though he never blossomed into a true superstar, he played 12 years in the majors (six with Atlanta) and hit .261 with 160 homers and 698 RBIs. Francoeur was not the first M-Braves alum to reach the majors — Brian McCann and Blaine Boyer beat him to it — but he was the first to make a major splash, starting on this date 17 years ago. Braves fans should be reminded just how good he was.

23 Jun

memory side road

Some locally familiar names popped up in an mlb.com article entitled “Rookie greats who never reached that level again.” Every Mississippi Braves fan knows the tale of Jeff Francoeur. Old Jackson Generals fans surely recall Mitch Meluskey, and Ole Miss faithful no doubt remember Chris Coghlan. Coghlan was an All-SEC outfielder in Oxford and a .339 career hitter who was drafted 36th overall by the Florida Marlins in 2006. Three years later, he won National League rookie of the year honors. Hampered by injuries, he played eight more years in the big leagues – winning a ring with the Chicago Cubs in 2016 – but never really captured his ROY magic again. Meluskey was a switch-hitting catcher who showed great promise during his time at Smith-Wills Stadium. He was on the 1996 Texas League pennant-winning team and batted .340 with 14 homers and 46 RBIs for the Double-A Gens the next year. He stuck with Houston as a semi-regular in 2000 and hit .300 with 14 homers. But, the mlb.com story notes, Meluskey didn’t fit in well with the Astros and was traded after that season, got hurt and rather quickly faded away. Francoeur arrived in Mississippi in 2005 as a highly rated prospect, heated up after a sluggish start at Trustmark Park and was promoted to Atlanta in July of that year. His sensational start in the ATL landed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated as “The Natural” and generated all manner of over-the-top hype. Though Francoeur never quite achieved the “greatness” many predicted, he did have a solid career: .261, 160 homers and 698 RBIs over 12 seasons.

08 Jan

raise a glass

Jeff Francoeur turns 34 today. He was a mere 21 when he arrived in Mississippi in 2005 as one of the game’s top-rated prospects. At 6 feet 4, 220 pounds, he looked like a ballplayer on the field, and he had the kind of infectious personality that made him a presence in the Mississippi Braves’ clubhouse, too. “Frenchy” debuted in Atlanta later that same year and famously made the cover of Sports Illustrated after an impressive start. But his star turn was short-lived. He was found wanting in Atlanta by 2009 and was traded away. He played for seven other MLB clubs before retiring to the broadcast booth – with the Braves – last year. There are plenty of haters out there who’ll dismiss Francoeur’s career as a big bust. True, he was never an All-Star and didn’t lead Atlanta to a championship. But he hit .261 with 160 home runs over a 12-year period. Those aren’t table-scrap numbers. He hit 29 bombs in one season and twice drove in more than 100 runs. He hit .293 one year and .285 in another. Twice he had 40 or more doubles in a season. He had a 22-steal season. He won a Gold Glove in right field and three times led his league in outfield assists. On this day, his birthday, he deserves some props.

23 Feb

going forward

If you’ve been recently to an Atlanta Braves game or a Mississippi Braves game – maybe even a Rome Braves game – you’ve seen them in the crowd. Jeff Francoeur replica jerseys. Francoeur, who starred for the M-Braves 11 years ago, last played a game for Atlanta in 2009. But his jersey had staying power — and now “Frenchy” himself is back in the fold. Signed to a minor league contract, he’ll be in the big club’s spring training camp this week. Though Francoeur’s first tour with the Braves didn’t end well, there is still a soft spot for him in the hearts of many fans, especially so in Pearl. He wasn’t the first M-Braves product to make The Show, but he created the most buzz back in 2005. The question now is, Can Francoeur, who had a good 2015 season in Philadelphia, win a job in Atlanta’s outfield? … As spring training begins to heat up, there are quite a few interesting questions surrounding Mississippians. To wit: How will Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton and Ole Miss product Zack Cozart bounce back from injuries in Cincinnati, and will they become trade bait? How will ex-Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson, traded from Colorado to Tampa Bay, fare in a new league and new home park? What will UM alum Chris Coghlan’s role be with the Chicago Cubs, who look loaded for bear in the National League? What kind of numbers will Mississippi State product Mitch Moreland, a free agent after this season, put up for Texas, which rewarded his strong 2015 campaign with a $5.7M deal? And, while everyone is saying all the right things, is former State star Jonathan Papelbon really going to fit in with Washington?

23 Jul

worth another look

Jeff Francoeur is expected to be in a San Diego Padres uniform tonight when they play the Cubs in Chicago. The former Mississippi Braves star reportedly has been called up from Triple-A El Paso, where he was batting .294 with 15 home runs and 60 RBIs. He also posted a 4.26 ERA in seven pitching appearances. Francoeur was the right fielder for the inaugural M-Braves club in 2005 and made a big splash in Atlanta that summer. If you’re counting, San Diego will be the sixth MLB team for which Francoeur has played in a career that took a downturn in 2008. He is a career .263 hitter with 140 homers.

26 Mar

on the move

Tyler Moore will start the 2014 season at Triple-A Syracuse, having been sent down Tuesday by the Washington Nationals. Moore, who played at Northwest Rankin High, Meridian Community College and Mississippi State, is a .241 career hitter with 14 home runs and 50 RBIs over parts of two seasons with the Nationals. The right-handed hitting Moore can play first base or the outfield and has power that Washington, the favorite in the National League East, surely will find use for later in this season. … Former Mississippi Braves standout Jeff Francoeur has signed a minor league deal with San Diego. Francoeur had a good spring with Cleveland but was cut last week. If you’re keeping score, Francoeur has now gone from the Braves to the Mets to the Rangers to the Royals to the Giants to the Indians to the Padres. He’s a good guy and a lot of people are hoping he’ll get some more big league time.

07 Jan

it is what it is

Jeff Francoeur may be running low on chances in baseball, but he’ll get at least one more. Cleveland has signed the former Mississippi Braves star to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training. The Indians’ outfield currently includes Michael Bourn, Michael Brantley, David Murphy and Ryan Raburn, which might be a tough group to crack. The right-handed hitting Francoeur, whose star burned out quickly in Atlanta, has played for the New York Mets, Texas, Kansas City and San Francisco over the past five seasons. He batted .204 overall in 2013 and was released twice (by the Royals and Giants). Francoeur, who turns 30 on Wednesday, is still a good outfielder and is a career .263 hitter with 140 home runs. True, he may face long odds of making the cut with the Indians. But, like Starkville native Julio Borbon — an outfielder who’ll go to camp with Baltimore as a Rule 5 draftee — and Pascagoula’s Joey Butler — a waiver claim who’ll get a look from St. Louis as a spare outfielder — Francoeur has a chance to make a big league roster. Sometimes that’s all you can ask. Sometimes that’s all you need.