- Brendan Roberts, Fantasy
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Talk about a treat for my eyes.
The itinerary took me to Disney's Wide World of Sports on Wednesday to watch the Nationals and home-field Braves.
Now, over the last 6-7 years, I've been to just about every spring training site in both Arizona and Florida. And when it comes to stacking up the "niceness" and pageantry of stadiums, I'd stack 'em all up below Atlanta's facility. Yes, I realize Mickey Mouse signs my paychecks. But take it from a guy who's been around a time or two and can appreciate a nice facility and a good show when he sees one. They do it up right, from the funny PA announcer to the organist to the fireworks (I can't recall ever seeing a ballpark set off fireworks in a spring training game before).
With that, I offer you today's Roberts Report, coming from sun-splashed Central Florida.
Washington at Atlanta (in Orlando/Lake Buena Vista)
• Finally someone who can tell it like it is. Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce to you, Mr. Jeff Francoeur. The man his teammates call "Frenchy" was the first guy during my trip who actually put numbers to my questions about "individual goals" for this season. He elaborated, he joked, he wasn't guarded and you likely won't find a nicer guy in the Braves' clubhouse.
Ol' free-swingin' Jeff. As I said to him, and I've said to others, there's only one Jeff Francoeur, unless you want to mess with comparing him to Vladimir Guerrero. To that, he chuckled and said, "Yeah, but I'm shooting for 55-60 walks this season. I had 23 [walks] my first [full] season and then 42 last year, and I expect it to keep going up and up."
Granted, he listed those numbers as if he'd been inquired about his free-swinging ways a hundred times already this camp. He then proceeded to swing at a pitch on his hands on the first pitch in his first at-bat. But he was gracious about it, and he gave much more detail after that. I referred to a recent conversation he had had with our own Matthew Berry in which he told TMR that he hit a number of balls off the wall in 2007 or just barely missed homers. So how about this year?
"I see no reason I can't hit 30 homers. I've learned a lot in my first two seasons, and I've gotten stronger and more comfortable it's all just my regular development. Sometimes I catch myself trying to do too much, and then I step back and realize, 'Hey, I'm only 24.' I'm still getting better.
"So at least 25-plus homers, a .290 average and 20-plus steals and " Wait, 20-plus steals? Really? "Yup, I've been working a lot with base-running instructor Lynn Jones over on the side fields, and I'm improving that area of my game. I think I have that in me."
Very interesting -- and fantasy gold if it happens. In 394 career major league games, Francoeur has nine career steals. But he did steal 13 bases in just 84 games for Double-A Mississippi before getting called up in 2005. Twenty might be a bit high, but I could see 10-15 steals if he puts a little focus on it.
• John Smoltz (neck/shoulder) is progressing well, and in this case, no news was good news. The Braves say he'll be skip his first start through the rotation but is tentatively scheduled to go April 6. I got no indication from him otherwise.
• Perhaps you've seen the picture of a huge Dmitri Young and an overweight Nick Johnson chumming around early in camp. Well, Dmitri was nowhere to be found in Orlando on Wednesday, but the Nick Johnson I saw looked nothing like the Johnson I saw in that picture. He appears to be in very good shape, actually, slim and nimble. He moved around well at first base and on the basepaths, and I actually got kind of excited about him again when I saw him take a few big hacks with that pretty lefty swing.
Johnson told me after the game he feels great and is not feeling any effects from his 2006 leg fracture (despite having what he called a "gruesome" scar on his hip where they inserted the rod in his leg). "Leg-wise, everything is good. I have no pain at all. None."
So how much will he play? "I'm supposed to play every day," Johnson said. Now that's not coming from manager Manny Acta, who has been pretty mum regarding the playing-time situation at first base. But Johnson might have just let the cat out of the bag; for that, and what I saw from him today, I'm valuing him higher.
• Not much to say about today's starting pitchers, Matt Chico, who was hit hard, and Jeff Bennett, who pitched well. Neither really intrigued me, and both appeared to be lacking an "out" pitch. Bennett's performance (four scoreless innings, one hit) might earn him a big league job as a long reliever/spot starter, though.
• Brian McCann sure looked good. He knocked around the lefty Chico (a hard foul ball and two line-drive hits), which is always a good sign for a lefty hitter. He wouldn't play the over/under game with me in homers and batting average, but said he was pretty happy with the way he felt and was eager to get the season going. "My only goal is to stay healthy and in the lineup." So I asked him what it's like to "stay healthy and in the lineup" while catching half his games in the heart of the deep South. "Well, I'm from [Georgia], so I'm kinda used to it. There's no secret to it I just deal with it."
• Lastings Milledge seemed to have an upper-cut swing; everything he hit in BP and during the game tended to go upward. I don't see a great (or maybe even good) average coming from this guy anytime soon, but right when I was about to write him off, he launched one to left. The tall and lanky Joe Borchard (remember him?) jumped up and robbed him of either a home run or at least extra bases, but it showed me that Milledge does have a lot of pop in his relatively small frame. Plus, he got around in center field very well, and I definitely see more steals potential than his numbers have shown. He'll lead off for the Nats, a role he seemed to relish when I talked to him after the game. I'm thinking Mike Cameron potential here, but maybe with fewer steals.
• Speaking of big swings, Austin Kearns went 0-for-3, and a fellow scribe who is close to the team called him "overrated," saying his swing looks awful. After hearing that and watching him, I'd have to agree. He's right on top of the plate, and his hands are tucked in his chest; he's just asking for up-and-in fastballs.
• The Braves traded Tyler Yates to the Pirates in exchange for minor leaguer Todd Redmond on Wednesday. Redmond has a 22-21 record as a starter in 69 starts over three minor league seasons, while Yates is the ideal organizational reliever. Basically, the team swapped organization depth at different positions. Nothing to see here.
• Rafael Soriano wasn't throwing in the high 90s like I know he can -- he topped out at 93 mph -- and did walk Kearns on four pitches to begin his inning of work. But he looked sharp after that, finishing with a scoreless inning for the second straight day.
• Mark Teixeira came into Wednesday's game with a .188 average this spring but launched a home run to left on the first pitch of his second at-bat and then doubled down the line in left field in his next at-bat. Then again, the switch hitter did that while batting right-handed, traditionally his better side.
• A source close to the team told me that the Nationals' new ballpark won't be as favorable for pitchers as the old park, but GM Jim Bowden believes it will still lean toward being a pitchers' park.
And a few of the less meaningful notes
• You know who I keep running into down here? Jayson Stark. Hard-working, knowledgeable guy that Stark is. We oughta hire him.
• Mark Kotsay is another of those "gotta-see" players, in that you have to see him play before you realize his full value to a team. I liked what I saw, but I still wouldn't touch him in fantasy.
• The right-handed Matt Diaz just missed a homer down the right-field line. You don't see that very often, at least from guys not named Vladimir.
• Between-innings music at Champion Stadium: the This Week In Baseball theme. And they also had the late Mel Allen saying "How about that!" after a few nice plays. God, I miss that show.
• Ronnie Belliard is among the least athletic-looking ballplayers I've ever seen.
• Jesus Colome looked good, popping the glove at 94 mph. He throws from a three-quarter arm slot that makes it look like he's slinging the ball, which can be tough to read.
Next up: Florida at St. Louis (in Jupiter, Fla.).
Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN Fantasy.
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