JJ FURMANIAK

DIEHARD FANS OF JJ FURMANIAK

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Scout.com Article

Contributed by Melissa Lockard
Earlier this month, the Oakland A’s inked infielder J.J. Furmaniak to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training. Furmaniak joins the A’s from the Pirates chain, where he had spent the past one and a half seasons. A former Division II collegiate player, Furmaniak has been an underdog-who-made-good throughout his career. We recently caught up with one of the A's newest acquisitions…

J.J. Furmaniak has taken the road less traveled on his way to the major leagues. The six foot tall middle infielder was raised in the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook, a place normally associated more with high school football talent than baseball talent. He then went to college at Lewis University, a Division II college known more for academics than baseball prowess. However, he played well enough at Lewis to be noticed by the San Diego Padres, who drafted him in the 22nd round of the 2000 amateur draft.
Furmaniak quickly stripped away any doubts about his ability to compete against Division I collegiate athletes in his first professional season, when he hit a blistering .343 with five homers and 10 stolen bases in 62 games for the Padres’ Pioneer League affiliate. He was named a Pioneer League All-Star that season for his efforts. According to Furmaniak, playing Division II baseball helped him prepare to be a professional.
“I think it did a lot to help me work ethic-wise. I knew that I was being viewed as a longshot, so I had to work extra hard to stand-out.
Once you begin to realize that you are as good or better than a lot of guys who played at Division I schools, the difference doesn’t seem to matter anymore,” Furmaniak said.
Furmaniak began rising through the ranks of the Padres’ system, posting another All-Star season in 2003 (his .314 batting average in
78 games in High-A before being promoted to AA earned him a California League All-Star nod) and reaching AAA by 2004. That season, Furmaniak hit .294 with 17 homers and 73 RBI in 120 games for the AAA-Portland Beavers. Those numbers put Furmaniak in the discussion as one of the Padres better shortstop prospects.
Those numbers also set-up Furmaniak for the most tumultuous season of his career: 2005. Now established as a promising prospect, Furmaniak had gone from being a relative unknown to someone that other teams asked about when calling to make a trade. When Padres starting catcher Ramon Hernandez was knocked out with a knee injury after a misadventure trying to block home-plate, San Diego was desperate to acquire an everyday catcher to replace Hernandez. They decided on David Ross, who was playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates asked for Furmaniak in return and suddenly he was traded away from the only organization he had ever played for.
Furmaniak says that it was an adjustment moving to a new organization.
“The first transition was a little tough because I had been with San Diego for five or six years and I had made a lot of friends along the way,” Furmaniak said.
“At first [when he arrived in Pittsburgh], I was a little quiet in the locker room, but I think this time will be a lot easier because I have had that experience of changing teams and I have played against a lot of the guys [in the A’s organization] so I feel a little more familiar with them.”
The trade did open up an opportunity for Furmaniak that he may not have had in San Diego, a chance to play in the big leagues in 2005.
Furmaniak was a September call-up for the Pirates that season, and he got a decent amount of playing time that month for the Bucs. He appeared in 13 games for Pittsburgh, collecting five hits in 26 at- bats and driving-in a run. He also walked four times.
For Furmaniak, playing in the big leagues was the culmination of a dream that some likely thought was a stretch when he was playing collegiate baseball.
“It was unbelievable. I got to face a lot of great pitching when I was up there. My first game was against [Chris] Carpenter, so that was amazing and then I believe the next time I played it was against [Roger] Clemens. I also faced [Mark] Prior, so it was great to see so much top-flight pitching,” Furmaniak said.
“I felt like I got my feet wet a little bit and I am looking forward to hopefully getting some more experience at the big league level this season.”
Part of Furmaniak’s major league experience was the opportunity to play at Wrigley Field, home of his childhood team, the Chicago Cubs.
“That was unbelievable [playing at Wrigley Field]. Just stepping on the field was an amazing moment. You know, when you are a kid, you think that it would be great to have it work out that you are a Cubs player. It didn’t work out that way, but it was still amazing to be able to step on that field,” Furmaniak said.
The 2006 season wasn’t as kind to Furmaniak. He spent the entire year at AAA-Indianapolis and had the worst offensive season of his career, hitting only .213 with six homers in 371 at-bats. He also missed time with a strained oblique muscle, although he insists that the injury is not an excuse for his poor season. Instead, he points to some adjustments he made to his swing and to his offensive approach that he feels threw him off of his game.
“I tried to make some adjustments this season to be less aggressive and I think it hurt me. I think when you have been at AAA for a few years like I have you sometimes think that you have to change things about your style to make it to that next level,” Furmaniak said.
“I tried to be that guy who took a lot of pitches and I shortened my swing and was just trying to get on-base. I think it was too many changes. I took a lot of pitches I should have hit. I’m looking to get back to being that guy who supplies some power, is aggressive and drives the ball into the gap.”
Despite those poor 2006 numbers, the Oakland A’s still liked what they saw in Furmaniak’s game. In addition to having some homerun power (Furmaniak hit 18 and 14 homers in AAA in 2004 and 2005, respectively), he is a solid defensive player who is capable of handling third, short and second with aplomb, although he prefers the challenge that playing shortstop presents him.
“Shortstop is my home. This past year was the first year that I played shortstop primarily. In past seasons, I would get a lot of games at short, but I’d see time at second and third, too. This year, I was at short day-in-and-day-out. I think I like the shortstop position the best because it is the most difficult position to play, but I have become comfortable at all three spots,” Furmaniak said.
Based on his past exploits, the A’s looked past his 2006 struggles and wasted no time this off-season pursuing the minor league free agent. That recruiting effort was rewarded when Furmaniak chose to sign with Oakland over several other teams that were interested in him.
“I thought that the A’s were a great fit for me personally. It also helped that the A’s pursued me a little bit. They called my house and were aggressive in trying to have me join the organization, so I felt it was a good match,” Furmaniak said.
“I’m very excited to be with the A’s organization.”

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