2/27/2013 3:10 P.M. ET
Francoeur enters 2013 with something to prove
By Dick Kaegel / MLB.com
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Right fielder Jeff Francoeur, after signing up with the Royals in 2011, had what was termed a terrific bounce-back season. Almost everything went right.
So what did Frenchy think -- that it would just carry over into 2012?
"I really think I did," Francoeur said. "I'd like to say I didn't, but I really think I did. Not to say I didn't work, but I think I took some things for granted, and it was like when the season started last year, I just got lost and I couldn't catch up."
It was a horrible fallback season. He went from .285 to .235, from 87 RBIs to 49, from 47 doubles to 26, from 20 homers to 16, even from 22 steals to four.
Sometimes Francoeur just looked absolutely lost at the plate.
"It was more than sometimes," he said, flashing his effervescent smile. "I'm the type of guy, I'll take criticism when I deserve it, and last year I let this team down, and I let the fans down. I did not have a good year. That motivates me to have a good year this year. We have too many good players in this camp for me to sit out there and take up 600 at-bats in a year and just not do well. So it's very motivating to me, knowing what I needed to do this offseason."
Back in Duluth, Ga., Francoeur plunged into work. He stayed in touch with new hitting coach Jack Maloof about technique. He got a weekly program from strength and conditioning coordinator Ryan Stoneberg. He was on the phone with teammate Alex Gordon about diet and training.
"There are a lot of little things that you can do off the field to help your game," Gordon said. "Staying strong, eating right and stuff like that. And that's what I try to do, and sometimes it rubs off on guys, and I think Frenchy kind of caught onto it and liked it."
Francoeur, anything but flabby, nevertheless managed to drop 5 percent of his body fat this winter. He looks sleeker. Then there was this hitting problem.
"I started hitting Nov. 1. I've never done that before, but when you stink like I did last year, you had to start somewhere. So I watched a lot of film in October and tried to look at things I wanted to accomplish," he said.
He enlisted the help of former Minor League first baseman Brad McCann, older brother of Atlanta catcher Brian McCann. Their father operates the Windward Baseball Academy in Alpharetta, Ga.
"We'd work usually three days a week at their place, and then there's this family in my neighborhood where Jason Varitek used to live. He put a batting cage in his basement, and this family bought and nobody ever used it anymore," Francoeur said. "So they gave me, Brian McCann and Mark DeRosa a key. We can go in there any time we want. There's a batting machine and, until my wife was pregnant, I had her putting the balls in the machine for me, throwing curveballs and sinkers, but then when she got pregnant, I didn't want her to get hit anymore."
So the work went on without Catie, but the results were good.
"I feel really good where my swing's at," Francoeur said. "I'm not the type of guy that I can just roll out of bed every day and, like Billy [Butler], your swing's there. Mine takes repetition, takes a lot of practice and for me, luckily, I've been able to repeat my swing every day, and I think that's something I'm going to have to stay on top of all year."
In that regard, Francoeur can expect any help he needs from Butler, the team's designated hitter and designated expert on smashing the smithereens out of a baseball. Butler has been keeping his keen eyes on Frenchy's swing.
"I watch his BP every day, not because he needs the help, but because I just love hitting and I love watching it and I love watching a good swing," Butler said. "And what he's doing in camp right now, he's got the best swing I've ever seen him have."
Francoeur went to a bat with a bigger barrel, and, with the strength that he added in the weight room, Butler sees the ball bursting off the wood.
At least Francoeur's defensive play did not seem to suffer much last year. He led the Major Leagues with 19 outfield assists. Yet Francoeur this year feels lighter and swifter than before, and manager Ned Yost notices an improvement.
"It shows. That ball he caught in the gap the other day; I don't think he'd have caught that ball at the end of the year last year, and he caught it easy," Yost said.
"He looks great swinging the bat, and he looks great in the outfield. You can tell he worked his tail off."
So far, Francoeur is 4-for-9, .444, with a triple, a double and two RBIs. He has two assists already, including cutting down the Brewers' Blake Lalli at the plate in the second inning of Wednesday's 3-2 victory.
"Frenchy's assist from right field was as good as you can do it," Yost said.
Until hot outfield prospect Wil Myers departed in the James Shields-Wade Davis trade with Tampa Bay, the threat of his looming presence provided some impetus.
"I'd be lying if I'd say I didn't know what his situation was, where he was going and what he did," Francoeur said. "Because, quite frankly, I was that guy when I was 20, 21 years old that was breathing down someone else's neck. He's a heckuva player and, for me, when we made the trade and got the starting pitching, if anything it motivated me more.
"They needed me to come through because there's not just someone waiting in the wings right there. So it was nice to know that they believed in me but, at the same time, I've got a lot of work to do, and I've got a lot to prove."
"We're really counting on him," Yost said.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.