Weighing options, Braves use Francoeur in center

Grilli to make first appearance since rupturing Achilles tendon July 11

March 16th, 2016

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When the Braves signed Jeff Francoeur to a Minor League deal during the first week of Spring Training, there was reason to wonder where he might play if a roster spot eventually opened for him.

Three weeks later, it still remains unclear how Francoeur might fit. But as the Braves evaluate their options, they are going to give the veteran corner outfielder a chance to spend some time in center field, the somewhat foreign position that he manned during Wednesday's 8-8 tie against the Cardinals.

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"I'll probably run him out there three or four more times to see how comfortable we are with him out there and then make a decision," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "But it would be a nice option."

During a career that began in 2005 with Atlanta, Francoeur has made just seven regular-season appearances (three starts) in center field. But as a 32-year-old non-roster invitee, the veteran outfielder has no choice but to prove he can at least be serviceable at the position if necessary.

There is no doubt that Francoeur's right-handed bat could provide some flexibility to the Braves, who will possess a left-handed-heavy lineup. But with Michael Bourn and Emilio Bonifacio present to serve as backup outfielders, some plans will need to change for Francoeur to gain a roster spot.

Over the past four months, it has been assumed that the Braves will likely release Nick Swisher if they are unable to find another team willing to trade for at least a portion of his $15 million salary. But despite the fact that they already have a left-handed center fielder in Ender Inciarte, the Braves have indicated they plan to carry Bourn and his $14 million salary.

While Bourn has served as a valuable mentor during Spring Training, his role will become more complicated once the season begins. Inciarte will get a majority of the starts in center, and on those days when the Braves want to sit him against a tough left-hander, they could turn to Bonifacio, a switch-hitter who signed a one-year, $1.25 million deal in December.

There has been some thought that Bourn could spend some time in left. But Hector Olivera has provided some encouragement as he's batted .429 (15-for-35) and steadily adjusted to his new outfield surroundings. If Olivera extends his success into the season, he could certainly serve as an everyday player.

If the Braves alter their plans regarding Bourn or Bonifacio, then maybe they would have reason to carry Francoeur, who has hit .286 (8-for-28) through his first 11 games. But for now, the veteran outfielder is simply doing whatever he can to prove himself, even if that means spending a few Spring Training games in center field.

Odds and ends

• Jason Grilli will make his Grapefruit League debut in Thursday's home game against the Astros. Grilli has not pitched in a big league game since rupturing his left Achilles tendon July 11. The veteran reliever has said he is confident he'll be ready for Opening Day.

• Ozzie Albies went 2-for-4 and recorded a pair of stolen bases while playing the entirety of Wednesday's game at second base. The 19-year-old shortstop, who is ranked as baseball's 29th-best prospect by MLBPipeline.com, has batted .333 (10-for-30) in 15 Grapefruit League games.

• Chipper Jones, Marquis Grissom, Fred McGriff, Mark Lemke, Brian Jordan and Ralph Garr were all in camp Wednesday. Jones, McGriff, Grissom and Garr were present to serve as advisors or guest instructors. Lemke and Jordan were fulfilling broadcasting duties.