Thursday, September 08, 2005

J.J. Furmaniak Report

J.J. Furmaniak, SS, Pittsburgh Pirates
Drafted 649th Overall (22nd Rd), 2000 Draft, Lewis University
Bats R/Throws R
26 YO, 6'3", 190 lbs

I'm writing the J.J. Furmaniak prospect report because in the words of Bill Simmons, it needs to happen. It has to happen. He's not all that as a prospect, but he has some upside as a utility infielder. He's as good a bet as anybody in baseball to be a fan favorite. He's a scrappy, dirty uniform white guy who has some pop in his bat, a pretty decent glove in the field, and a catchy name. I watched him a few times this season and I had no clue who he was or where he came from at first. I'll admit it. I'm not ashamed. I had no idea that the guy existed and I thought that the name had to have been a joke. It wasn't a joke.

Here's another reason why I need to write this report. He's a fellow GLVC alum. He's from Lewis University while I'm a graduate of THE University of Indianapolis. Also of note, he was the minor leaguer that the Pirates got in return for sending David Ross to San Diego.

2005 Portland: .266/.324/.437, 16 2B, 4 3B, 14 HR, 28 BB, 86 K, 9 SB, 5 CS, 387 AB
2005 Indianapolis: .288/.315/.410, 5 2B, 3 3B, 2 HR, 4 BB, 32 K, 5 SB, 3 CS, 139 AB
2005 Total: .272/.321/.430, 21 2B, 7 3B, 16 HR, 32 BB, 116 K, 14 SB, 8 CS, 526 AB
2004 Portland: .294/.348/.489, 24 2B, 4 3B, 17 HR, 33 BB, 86 K, 8 SB, 5 CS, 425 AB
MiLB Career: .275/.345/.430, 133 2B, 31 3B, 63 HR, 241 BB, 564 K, 65 SB, 2476 AB

There's a lot of data up there. It tells you a couple of things. First, he's a pretty decent hitter for a minor league shortstop, but not somebody who is going to develop into a first rate major leaguer because of the age and middle of the road plate discipline. Any shortstop who can consistently post AAA slugging percentages in the mid .400's can at least give you replacement level work at the ML level. One thing to watch is the contact rate. He struck out a lot this season, which can't help his batting average at the next level.

Defensively, he's average at shortstop, showing steady hands and more range than you'd expect out of a guy this tall. He did make a couple of nice plays when I saw him in Indy. He made a nice game-ending leaping grab on a smoked line drive that showed good reactions. I'd be interested to see if they can turn him into a true utility player by teaching him to play the outfield. If they can do that, they have a poor man's Rob Mackowiak on their hands, only with the ability to play a credible short. Maybe that's more like a really rich man's Willie Bloomquist. At any rate, he's already a better player than Bloomquist. And Mackowiak is probably his ceiling on offense.

ETA: Whenever the Pirates Get Around to Calling Him Up
2 1/2 Stars

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Current Events

A couple of interesting things have happened in the last few days and I'd like to talk about them.

The first thing is the Pirates firing of Lloyd McClendon as manager. Actually, that's not the thing I find interesting. McClendon is a decent manager. He never struck me as either incompetent or gifted. He just fades into the background of managers who can do an adequate job, but aren't going to make a big difference. In fact almost every manager meets that description to me other than the ones who are needlessly destructive by means of running pitchers into the ground or by habitually overmanaging. The thing I'll miss about McClendon is the knowledge that once or twice a season he'll completely go off the deep end and make an ass of himself during an argument with an umpire. I'm not above saving these kinds of incidents on my PVR and rewatching them when I need a laugh. Right now I have the Frank Robinson staring contest saved.

What I find interesting is a brief discussion yesterday on ESPNews between Michael Kim and I believe it was Brian Kenny. The discussion centered around the fact that the Pirates don't suck because of McClendon, but instead because of the fact that they don't retain the young talent they produce. I concede that the sorry state of affairs in Pittsburgh isn't McClendon's fault. But it isn't because of free agent defections either. Over the last decade, they've kept most of the good players they've found or produced. Jason Kendall and Brian Giles immediately come to mind. The problem is twofold.

1. They've squandered the resources they have had by locking up both good players (Giles and Kendall) and bad players (Pat Meares and Kevin Young) for too long and for too much money.

2. They haven't produced enough talent to begin with.

Think about it for a second. What players have they really produced since Barry Bonds left? They found Brian Giles, getting him in a steal of a deal. Copy that with Kip Wells and Josh Fogg, both of whom are decent pitchers, but nothing that's going to blow your skirt up and are likely going to be pushed aside by the wave of pitching talent bubbling up through the system. Then you have Kendall, who is a pretty good player. The only guy I can come up with that they regrettably threw aside for monetary reasons was Aramis Ramirez. I guess you could count Jason Schmidt, but I tend to think that they just got unlucky with him as he was injury prone and mediocre in his time in Pittsburgh.

Most of the blame for the last decade of futility falls on Cam Bonifay's inept shoulders. I know it is a running theme here to chant that it isn't money but brains that builds winning teams, but even teams on a shoestring budget can stumble into relevance once or twice a decade if they're run competently. If they're run by really good GM's and scouting departments, they can become fixtures in playoff races like the A's and Twins have. There is hope in Pittsburgh right now fed by the emergence of Jason Bay and Oliver Perez and the young talent on display in the form of Zach Duke, Ryan Doumit, Paul Maholm, Brad Eldred, Ronny Paulino, and Ian Snell. They have to shepherd these players into the lineup and rotation, hope that their early promise is a sign of things to come, and then surround them with good talent, but that's an ongoing concern everywhere that you have a young group of talented players. The big choices come in the form of Craig Wilson and Oliver Perez, both of whom have value either in trade or in being talent to add to the young guys. It remarkable how much this organization resembles that of the Brewers, who are facing a similar set of circumstances.

The next thing is on a similar theme of competence vs incompetence. Vince Namoli is leaving the Rays after the season, and it's possible (maybe even likely) that Lou Pinella and Chuck LaMar are going with him. This organization is showing a pulse despite continued mismanagement by LaMar and company. If they can find a GM and manager that is capable of making good choices and finding talent to surround BJ Upton, Delmon Young, Jonny Gomes, Jorge Cantu, Scott Kazmir, and Carl Crawford while also helping develop these young players enough to minimize their weaknesses, which in most cases is either making contact or swinging at every pitch that comes their way, they might be able to take advantage of aging squads in Baltimore and the Bronx and challenge Toronto and Boston in the future. There's a lot of work to do though. And I have zero faith in the ability of the current regime to capitalize on this opportunity.

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