Jeff Francoeur hadn’t been a part of a minor league opening day since 2005 and he would have obviously preferred to still be in the majors this time.
The former Parkview two-sport standout, though, certainly made the most of the situation anyway.
Francoeur homered and doubled while going 2 for 4 with a walk and two RBIs as the new El Paso Chihuahuas debuted in the Class AAA Pacific Coast League with a 7-5 victory at Reno on Thursday night.
The 30-year-old outfielder failed to make the Cleveland Indians this spring, but was quickly signed to a minor league contract by the San Diego Padres and assigned to El Paso to start the season.
The last previous minor league opening day for Francoeur, who bypassed Class AAA en route to the Atlanta Braves, had come with Class AA Mississippi. He reached the majors midway in the 2005 season and hit .300 as an instant sensation.
Francoeur twice drove in more than 100 runs for the Braves and had a good season with Kansas City in 2011, but his career has stalled since.
Right-handed reliever Anthony Carter, also a Parkview graduate, got a hold with a scoreless inning in El Paso’s opening victory, while former Gwinnett Braves and Atlanta infielder Brooks Conrad joined Francoeur with a homer.
Sims’ streak ends
Top Atlanta Braves prospect Lucas Sims couldn’t carry his winning streak over from 2013 to 2014.
The Brookwood graduate won his last eight starts for Class A Rome last season, but lost on opening night for Lynchburg in the Class A Advanced Carolina League.
Sims, 12-4 with a 2.62 ERA last year in his first full season, allowed five hits and three runs over four innings against Frederick on Thursday night. The right-hander struck out three and walked three.
Sims, who turns 20 on May 10, is ranked No. 60 on MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects list. He was the 21st overall pick in the 2012 draft by the Braves.
Late start for Meadows
Former Grayson standout Austin Meadows, the ninth overall pick in the 2013 draft by Pittsburgh, will get a late start in his first full minor league season. The outfielder strained a hamstring during spring training and will continue rehabbing in Florida until reporting to West Virginia of the Class A South Atlantic League.
Meadows, ranked No. 45 on MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects list, had an eye-catching first season, batting a combined .316 in the rookie Gulf Coast League and short-season Class A New York-Penn League.
Meadows, who turns 19 on May 3, had 11 doubles, five triples and seven homers in 48 games, driving in 22 runs and scoring 37 times.
Cone back in action
Zach Cone, who played in only seven games a year ago before he was lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon, opened the season back with Myrtle Beach of the Class A Advanced Carolina League.
The former Parkview and Georgia Bulldogs standout was the 37th overall pick in the 2011 draft by the Texas Rangers and was hitting .308 last season when hurt.
In 2012 with Class A Hickory, the 24-year-old outfielder had 17 homers and 64 RBIs in 112 games while batting .262. He is the brother of former Georgia Tech and Atlanta Falcons receiver Kevin Cone.
Hawkins, Heffley released
Outfielder Chris Hawkins, a third-round draft choice in 2010, was once ranked as Toronto’s 25th-best prospect by Baseball America. But after struggling in his second season at Class A Lansing, the North Gwinnett graduate was released at the end of spring training.
Hawkins, 22, hit .226 last year and had only three homers and 28 RBIs in 108 games. His only productive season came in 2011, when he hit .303 for Bluefield in the rookie Appalachian League.
Also released at the end of spring training was Brookwood graduate Ross Heffley, who hit .296 for Class A Rome in 2012 after being drafted by the Atlanta Braves out of Western Carolina. The 24-year-old second baseman, though, fell off to a .206 average last season with Rome and Lynchburg.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
More than two dozen players from Gwinnett high schools were on minor league active rosters at the start of the season.
Player Position High School Team Affiliate Class
Anthony Carter RHP Parkview El Paso Padres AAA
Zach Cone OF Parkview Myrtle Beach Rangers High A
Jeff Francoeur OF Parkview El Paso Padres AAA
Ronnie Freeman C Brookwood Visalia D’Backs High A
Grayson Garvin LHP Wesleyan Montgomery Rays AA
Josh Hart OF Parkview Delmarva Orioles Low A
Brandon Jacobs OF Parkview Visalia D’Backs High A
K.D. Kang OF Parkview Bowie Orioles AA
Danny Lockhart 3B Hebron Kane County Cubs Low A
Trey Martin OF Brookwood Kane County Cubs Low A
Stephen McCray RHP Parkview Charlotte White Sox AAA
Collin McHugh RHP Providence Oklahoma City Astros AAA
Matt Olson 1F Parkview Stockton Athletics High A
James Ramsey OF Wesleyan Memphis Cardinals AAA
Lucas Sims RHP Brookwood Lynchburg High A
Shannon Wilkerson OF Dacula Portland Red Sox AA