LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- After spending the past six seasons navigating a path that carried him across this country and forced him to adapt to new roles, Jeff Francoeur has earned the opportunity to return home to a fan base and organization that had continued to appreciate him from
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- After spending the past six seasons navigating a path that carried him across this country and forced him to adapt to new roles, Jeff Francoeur has earned the opportunity to return home to a fan base and organization that had continued to appreciate him from afar.
Francoeur received the news he was seeking on Tuesday, when the Braves informed him that he will be placed on the Major League roster and thus be in uniform for the April 4 Opening Day game against the Nationals at Turner Field.
"For me, it's going to be really cool on Monday running out there back at Turner Field, especially being the last year [of the ballpark]," Francoeur said. "I have so many great memories there, not just playing, but as a kid going to watch ... so running out there on Monday is going to be pretty cool."
"Frenchy earned it," Braves general manager John Coppolella said. "Every step of the way, he came in here, he played well and did everything we'd hoped he would do this spring."
The Braves have not determined how they will create a roster spot for Francoeur, who signed a Minor League deal on Feb. 24. This latest decision could lead the club to either trade Michael Bourn or potentially eat the $1.25 million deal that Emilio Bonifacio signed in December.
"It's always a tough decision for any roster spot because of the effect it has on other players, whether that is Boni or Bourn or whoever it might be," Coppolella said. "It's tough because while we like Francoeur, there's also a lot to like about other players, too."
Francoeur stood out as one of the Braves' most popular players dating back to when he was selected by them in the first round of the 2002 Draft. The suburban Atlanta native homered in his Major League debut on July 7, 2005, and graced the cover of Sports Illustrated a month later.
Though Francoeur proved productive through his first two Major League seasons, he began to decline and was traded to the Mets during the 2009 season. He has since played for the Rangers, Royals, Giants, Padres and Phillies.
But now, Francoeur is truly coming home to strengthen the Braves' bench with his right-handed power potential. He can capably handle both corner outfield spots and he has acquainted himself with center field over the past few weeks.
"We don't like to bring guys into Spring Training with [Francoeur's] service time and background if he doesn't have some kind of shot of making the team," Coppolella said. "He wasn't a dead-cinch lock for the team. But he had a chance and he made the most of that chance."
Francoeur has recorded four hits, including a double, in his past seven Spring Training at-bats and will enter Tuesday night's game against the Orioles with a .327 (16-for-49) batting average and one home run. He has eight hits, including three doubles and a homer, in 20 at-bats against left-handed pitchers this spring.
While playing for the Phillies last year, Francoeur fared better against right-handers (.769 OPS in 202 plate appearances) than left-handers (.645 OPS in 141 plate appearances). He also enhanced his attractiveness off the bench by batting .367 and driving in 11 runs in 31 pinch-hit plate appearances.
"We gave him an opportunity to come to Spring Training and perform, and he's done that," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Good for him. He's done well. He's performed well. He's a threat, a guy who can come off the bench and hit left-handed pitching, so we'll use him in that capacity. His track record as a pinch-hitter last year was really, really good and he's a great guy in the clubhouse. He's going to have some presence in the clubhouse, a lot of leadership, and he's good for us right now."
The switch-hitting Bonifacio has batted .271 (13-for-48) in Grapefruit League play. He has five hits, including a homer, in 23 at-bats against left-handers. Atlanta signed Bonifacio in December with the assumption that he could occasionally spell Ender Inciarte in center field on those days when the opponent starts a tough left-hander.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com.