Francoeur trade opens door for Heyward

Jason Heyward

Does the trade of Jeff Francoeur to New York open the door for Jason Heyward to take over in 2010?

With Jeff Francoeur now patrolling right field for the New York Mets, you have to wonder about what will happen at that position for the Atlanta Braves.

Ryan Church will probably be in a platoon in right field with Matt Diaz for the rest of the season. Then the Braves will have to look at several things to figure out if Church will be back next season.

Church is making $2.8 million this season. He'll be going into his final season before he's a free agent in 2010, so Church can take the Braves to arbitration this winter. Maybe Church does well enough to justify coming back, but he'll have to prove that between now and the end of the season.

The Braves will have to use their money wisely this winter. Church may command $3.5 million in arbitration, so they'll just have to make a call on whether or not Church will be worth that much money.

Perhaps Church, or the platoon he's in with Diaz, will be the perfect formula to be in place until Jason Heyward is ready for the big leagues. There is no doubt Heyward is the future in right field for the Braves, but it's just a question of when it's going to happen.

Heyward is hitting .302 this season, with 10 home runs and 38 RBI in 215 combined at bats between Myrtle Beach and Mississippi. Since he was promoted to Double-A, Heyward is hitting .346. He's had a very solid season in his second full year in pro ball.

You do wonder if the Braves will be tempted to promote Heyward to Atlanta later this summer, particularly if they are unable to acquire another big bat for the lineup. But chances are the earliest we could see Heyward would be Opening Day 2010.

Since he missed a couple of weeks with a hip injury, and then a few games with an oblique problem, Heyward will probably be sent to the Arizona Fall League in October. This will give the Braves a chance to evaluate Heyward against good competition, like they did last year with Tommy Hanson.

If Heyward does well in the AFL, he could convince the Braves he deserves a chance to go to spring training and compete for the 2010 right field job. And then they may want to bring Church back as the insurance, or the stopgap, as they had with Raul Mondesi when they waited on Jeff Francoeur in 2005.

But either way, the trade of Francoeur does open the door for Heyward. He'll show the Braves when he's ready. Remember, Jason doesn't turn 20 years old until next month. And yes, he's close to being in that same category of Andruw Jones and Rafael Furcal, two players who came up at 19 and did well in the big leagues. But it will be interesting to see when Baseball America's top prospect will be in right field for the Atlanta Braves.



Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on WFSM Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, Georgia and The Braves Show Talk Show. Shanks writes a weekly baseball column for The Macon Telegraph and is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. You can email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.


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