MLB.com Columnist

Paul Hagen

Seeking baseball rebirth, Francoeur turns to Manuel

Seeking baseball rebirth, Francoeur turns to Manuel

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Some people just hit it off. Who knows why? It happens in life. It happens in baseball.

Jeff Francoeur quickly became a star after breaking in with the Braves in 2005. From the opposite dugout, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel liked what he saw. And understand this: Manuel appreciates good hitting the way oenophiles swoon over the nuances of a great wine and art experts will endlessly analyze every brushstroke of a Monet.

"Half the time I felt like Charlie was my manager," Francoeur said with a laugh before a recent Phillies workout at Bright House Field. "I'd be on deck and I'd look in their dugout. And Charlie was always [shaking his fist] at me. And I was like, 'Is he pulling for me or is he hoping I'll strike out?'"

"I'd always be getting on him," Manuel admitted with a grin.

They had never worked together, though, until now. The 31-year-old outfielder, trying to get his career back on track after spending most of last season in Triple-A, signed with the Phils as a Minor League free agent and is a non-roster invitee. Manuel, after being dismissed as manager midway through the 2013 season, is back with the organization as a senior adviser to the general manager. This spring, he's working with hitters; Francoeur may just be his passion project.

Their paths nearly intersected four years ago, when Francoeur was a free agent for the first time. The Phillies, looking for a right-handed bat, were interested. Manuel's eyes lit up at the Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., that year when asked if he thought he could help Francoeur regain his hitting stroke.

"I see some mechanics and things that I would like to sit down and talk with him about," Manuel said at the time. "I would like to sit down and go over his approach and things like that. I see some things that I would like to suggest to him."

In the end, Francoeur ended up signing with the Royals, though he never really found his groove again. Released by Kansas City on July 5, 2013, he bounced to the Giants, Indians and Padres before signing with the Phils -- $18,000 per month, $925,000 plus incentives if he makes the team.

Maybe, Francoeur admitted, he would have been better off if he had worked with Manuel four years ago.

"There's always that," francoeur said. "But then, once it's done, I think you always kind of look forward, especially now that I'm here and with Charlie. I'm just kind of looking forward to it. We're going to work one on one, and that's what I've been looking forward to all offseason. When they told me he'd be here the whole time and I'd have the opportunity to work with him, it was a no-brainer for me. I've always respected him. I'm looking forward to working with him big-time."

"I've talked to Jim Thome, Jayson Werth, and they swear by Charlie. He knows so much about hitting. To be honest with you, I felt like if I could get here and get a chance to work with him and do what I can, I've still got a lot of good years ahead of me. I feel that way. I'm getting smarter about my body and different things."

Said Manuel: "He's got talent. I was kind of surprised when I talked to him. He knows hitting. He knows who he is now. When he was young, his adrenaline would get going and he'd overswing a lot. He's definitely got a chance to be a good hitter. I've always liked the way he hit. Hopefully, we can get him back to where he was a few years ago.

"I used to always talk to him. He's that kind of player. He has a tremendous personality. He smiles. He's upbeat. He brings energy. If we can get him to where he was a couple years ago, then he's still got a chance to be a good player. That's all I can tell you."

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has promised nothing beyond giving an outfielder whose OPS has declined each season since he posted an .848 in 2010 the chance to show what he can do. Last season, Francoeur appeared in just 10 big league games, and he batted .289 for the Triple-A El Paso Chihuahuas.

The Phils' depth chart lists Darin Ruf in left, Ben Revere in center and Domonic Brown in right, with Grady Sizemore as the primary backup.

"By no means has [Francoeur] made this club or is locked in," Amaro said. "He's going to get an opportunity to be with us, and we'll see how it goes. He can be a good addition as an extra outfielder for us.

"He didn't have the greatest season last year, but we think he provides some things -- or at least could provide some things -- that we need. Some balance in the outfield. He's a very good defender, he's a quality person. He just kind of fits the mold of what we think could be a piece of the puzzle here. But he's going to have to prove to us and to himself and others that he can be a contributor to this club. "It's hard to tell [what his upside is]. I don't know. I know the people are excited about working with him, and hopefully, he feels the same about being with us."

Nobody's more excited about working with Francoeur than Manuel, and the feeling is mutual.

"I've always loved playing in Philly," Francoeur said. "I've always hit well there. And I like the fans, man. I know they're tough, but it's the type of place where there's passion. You don't get that in some other places. Fans up there love professional sports. So, for me, I'm looking forward to the challenge of hopefully making this team and then contributing throughout the year."

And for what it's worth, of all the incentives the Phillies included in Francoeur's contract, one stands out. He'll get an extra $50,000 for being named Comeback Player of the Year.

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