Francoeur excited for another season in sun

Francoeur excited for another season in sun

Francoeur excited for another season in sun
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Jeff Francoeur, no surprise, was in a bubbly, upbeat, smiling mood.

Wheeling into the Royals' Surprise Stadium parking lot, he turned his big white pickup truck, slammed into reverse and backed up smartly into a prestige slot adorned with a nameplate.

"I took Denny Matthews' spot," Francoeur said merrily. "I don't think he'll be needing it."

No, the Royals' broadcasting legend would be going straight to Peoria Stadium where, contributing to Francoeur's high spirits, the Royals would play their last game in Arizona. It's been a long camp and Francoeur and his teammates are itching to go.

"Once today is over, I'm fine," he said before Sunday's Arizona finale against the Mariners. "I don't count Tuesday and Wednesday as Spring Training because we're going to be out on the West Coast and you're in a big league stadium for a night game. So after today I'm going to be happy."

The Royals will pause on their way to Friday night's American League opener to finish some exhibition business against the Padres. They'll play at San Diego on Tuesday night and at Lake Elsinore, Calif., on Wednesday afternoon.

Francoeur, after a brilliant bounceback season in 2011, has had a quiet Spring Training. After two hits in Sunday's 6-4 loss, he had a .246 (17-for-69) average, seven doubles, one home run and 10 RBIs in 23 games. But he's content with his progress.

"Absolutely. I've never hit .400 in Spring Training nor will I ever," Francoeur said. "It's one of those things for me that the last week and a half or two weeks is all I care about. I like where I'm at, and I'm comfortable that I'm ready to go for next Friday."

Francoeur was the right side of the Royals' productive, iron-man outfield last season. It was a trio that also included left fielder Alex Gordon and center fielder Melky Cabrera and that rarely took a break until manager Ned Yost sat almost everyone in the season's last week.

"That's one thing you don't see much in a season -- three outfielders able to play 150 games and stay healthy. That doesn't happen much and we were very fortunate to stay healthy," Francoeur said. "We pushed each other and that helps -- when you're out there pushing each other to be better and work hard, it makes a big difference and for us it did."

This year the middle changes with Lorenzo Cain replacing Cabrera, traded to the San Francisco Giants.

Frenchy's well-known story runs from Atlanta Braves glory days as a homegrown phenom to some down years, and then trades to the New York Mets and the Texas Rangers. After ending his short Texas stay in the 2010 World Series, he signed as free agent with Kansas City.

"He had bad years, but when you have a couple of 'em and start bouncing from team to team ... you always know you can do it, but it just hasn't always been there," Yost said. "You just feel a lot better when you put together a year like he did. You're in the right place and there's a comfort level that goes with being in the right place that helps, too."

Francoeur's professional rebirth came in the form of 20 home runs among 72 extra-base hits, a .285 average and, oh yes, a by-far career high of 22 stolen bases.

"The one thing I was so happy with last year was the consistency throughout the season for me at the plate and all that," Francoeur said. "And that's the only thing I want to do again this year, just be consistent. Yeah, it's great if you get hot or whatever, but just stay in an even keel. Make sure I'm producing every week and helping this team win ballgames."

Francoeur, 28, had a well-deserved reputation as a free swinger with scant regard to the merits of attacking the baseball within the strike zone or at least within range of a bat. He became more disciplined at the plate.

"Absolutely," he said. "Not that I'm going to get way more walks and do that stuff, but for me it was getting a good hitter's count and being able to attack fastballs. And Seitz [hitting coach Kevin Seitzer] had a good mentality for me for that and it definitely paid off."

Yost, who saw Francoeur playing against his son's high school team in Georgia, and then against his own Milwaukee Brewers for years, saw a definite change in the slugger.

"He started to learn how to use the whole field. He was a dead-straight pull hitter, swung at everything. He just developed a professional approach at the plate," Yost said.

From right field, Francoeur contributed 16 assists to the outfield's total of 51. He was second in the Majors only to Gordon's 20 in a Gold Glove season.

"He's got a gun, very short release, very accurate with his arm," Yost said.

Francoeur will be swinging from the No. 5 hole in the batting order.

"It protects us a little bit," Yost said. "I was thinking about putting Moose [Mike Moustakas] in the five and Frenchy in the sixth to give us a right-left-right. But there were too many situations last year where we ended up with a runner on second, they brought in a lefty to face Hoz [Eric Hosmer], walked Billy [Butler], faced Moose. So we're not going to do that this year, we're going to make it a little tougher for them to bring in their lefties."

Francoeur caught the wave of enthusiasm from Kansas City fans when attendance jumped up last September as the team finished with a winning month and an air of great anticipation for 2012.

"These fans are excited, the expectations are up which is a great thing but, with that, we understand that we've got to start winning ballgames. That's the No. 1 thing," Francoeur said. "If you want people in the stands, you win ballgames. So for us it's important to get off to a good start this year and I think we will."

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.