Kansas City gives Francoeur grand introduction
Despite short contract, right fielder plans on staying for long haul
KANSAS CITY -- When Jeff Francoeur signed his first professional baseball contract with the Braves in 2002, Dayton Moore was right there in the young player's home near Atlanta.
Now they've come full circle. Moore was at the oufielder's side as Francoeur officially joined the Kansas City Royals on Monday.
In 2002, Moore was in the Braves' front office and Francoeur was the club's first-round Draft choice. Francoeur was just 18, but Moore was impressed by the kid's passion for the game and his leadership potential. They clicked.
"We just kind of developed a close relationship coming up through the Minors," Francoeur recalled. "Many times I used to call him and say, 'Why am I not up in Double-A already?' and bugging him about that. But he was always very forward and truthful with me, and that always went a long way with me."
Moore brought in Francoeur, now 26, to play right field in what the Royals' general manager views as a team that is about to reap the results of a rejuvenated farm system. In the past, Francoeur has shown he could hit with authority, field with finesse and inspire in the clubhouse.
"The more passionate people are, the better leaders they are -- and he's someone that's demonstrated that his whole career," Moore said. "He's exactly what our organization needs as we bring in a lot of young players."
Francoeur, who'll play all of next season at 27, is still pretty young himself -- another reason that Moore signed him along with center fielder Melky Cabrera, who's 26.
"It makes perfect sense for us," Moore said.
Francoeur came to Kansas City on Monday to undergo a physical examination, which he passed, and to try on Royals uniform No. 21 before he chatted with reporters at Kauffman Stadium.
He believes the Royals are on the right track with their development plan.
"I grew up an Atlanta Braves fan and I saw how it was done, and it was built through the farm system and bringing young guys together to play," Francoeur said. "And I know there are a lot of good, young guys sitting in Double-A and Triple-A and a lot of guys are already here -- from Billy [Butler] to Alex [Gordon]."
Because Francoeur was a high school hero around Atlanta and came up with his hometown team, there was extra pressure on him. He survived nicely, especially in his first three years. He broke in by hitting .300 in half a season. The next year he knocked 29 home runs. The year after that he had 105 RBIs.
"When I was 21 years old and came up in Atlanta, I had a lot of mentors from John Smoltz to Chipper [Jones], and a lot of those guys who took me under their wings and showed me the way to do it," Francoeur said. "And here you've got a lot of 21-, 22-year-old guys getting ready to come up and have a big influence on this club and probably be stars for years, so, hopefully, I can help those guys out."
Francoeur certainly can point out some mistakes he made, like all the weight he added after those first three years in an effort to become a home run blaster. The 6-foot-5 right-handed hitter had been playing at about 215 pounds.
"I got up to 242 going into Spring Training and had about three chins -- kind of got a little too big," he said.
So in 2008, the bulked-up Francoeur fell to 11 homers, 71 RBIs and .239 -- and he also fell out of favor. Midway through the 2009 season, the Braves traded him to the New York Mets.
Now recapturing the retro Francoeur look, he's down to 217 and wants to be at 210 when Spring Training begins.
"I want to get back to being an athlete," he said. "Am I going to go out there and hit 40 home runs? There are maybe three or four guys, from Adam Dunn to Prince Fielder, that I consider the true home-run hitters.
"My whole goal every year is to hit around 20 home runs and try to hit 40 doubles. I want to be a gap-to-gap guy. Even coming up, my home runs were always line-drive home runs. I've never been a guy to hit long fly balls, so I want to get back to working on that."
The spaciousness of Kauffman Stadium doesn't bother him.
"For me, it works here," Francoeur said. "I know this ballpark can play big at times, so I'll hit 40, 45 doubles. If you drive the ball gap-to-gap these days with the wood and the athletes being big and strong, I don't think the ball will have a problem going out if you hit it."
Francoeur has amassed 81 outfield assists in his 845 big league games -- including 19 in one season for the Braves -- so his arm should be a welcome weapon for a team intent on improving its defense.
"I take a lot of pride in the outfield, and it's always fun for me when a guy's at second and the ball's hit to me," he said. "You take it as a personal thing to throw the guy out at home or, even better, see the third-base coach throw his arms up."
Francoeur wound up with the Texas Rangers in the World Series last season. The Royals haven't been in that event since 1985, so that experience will be something he can share with his young teammates.
Although the man known as Frenchy is signed to a one-year contract with a mutual option for 2012, he sounds like someone who's settling into Kansas City for the long haul.
"It was a great fit," Francoeur said. "I don't look at it as just one year. I don't want to come here, have a great year and say, 'See ya,' and go somewhere else.
"I'd like to be here for a while and see this thing turn around, see us start winning games and get a chance to go to the playoffs."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.