One step back, two steps forward

Before going forward, it is not necessarily a bad thing to look back in the rearview mirror and take with you the good things that happened, while remembering how to stay away from the bad. This is especially important to San Diego Padres prospects looking to not only get better, but get noticed by the people that matter. The self evaluation is a constant battle and sometimes it brings a smile when it could have easily been a frown. JJ Furmaniak is a perfect example.

JJ Furmaniak fractured his hand shortly after a promotion to Mobile and it looked like his season was over. Oddly enough, Furmaniak struggled more before fracturing his hand than after.

It was the perseverance he showed that will get him noticed by the Padres scouts and front office.

For Furmaniak, it all started in Lake Elsinore:

"I had a better season than I anticipated. Going into spring training there was a possibility I could make the Double-A team as a utility guy that could play three or four times a week, just playing all three positions. There was a possibility I could go back to Lake Elsinore and start at short. So, fortunately, I was able to go back and be an everyday player in Elsinore. I had a great first half, made the All-Star team, and put up some really good numbers there."

And Furmaniak got to wear the ugliest uniforms in the history of minor league baseball as a reward for his success.

"Yeah those were pretty ugly things," Furmaniak says laughing. "Those were definitely some pretty ugly uniforms. I don't know what the whole thing about that was. At least they had some uniforms, I think in years past everyone just wore their home jerseys."

It is a memento he gets for a solid season at Elsinore.

In 78 games, Furmaniak hit .314. He showed tenacity on the base paths and was rewarded with a career high, in one year, at one minor league level, 39 extra base hits. He also raised his slugging percentage by .138 points from .386 to .524.

"I got promoted, which was ultimately my main goal – to get promoted by the All-Star break. Went to Mobile, there was a little bit of adjustment my first 30 at bats and then I ended up fracturing my hand – out for three and a half, four weeks.

"After that I came back real solid for my next 75 at bats I hit well, pretty close to .300. That was a good confidence builder that I was able to come back and hit pretty good in Double A and have some confidence going into next year."

How is it, after fracturing a hand, Furmaniak was able to do so well upon his return?

"When I got hurt in Double-A I was able to sit back and watch the game and see how it is played at the Double-A level. You can nit and pick and see certain approaches so when I came back I could be more aggressive because I was recognizing pitchers were going to challenge you a lot more than some of the other leagues. I just learned some things – actually by getting hurt so I guess it was kind of a good thing getting hurt."

By that rationale, everyone should get hurt just after a promotion?

"Sometimes it is a good thing," Furmaniak says laughing. "You are able to sit back and realize different things."

What Furmaniak does not want to do is develop a pattern of futility early on before starting to come around at the plate. It has been a staple of his development thus far and something he is trying to shake.

"As weird as it sounds, that is what is going to happen each year or every level I go to. I don't know if it is just because when I get put into a new situation I try to hard or something like that.

"Once I got to Mobile, I started out (bad). The first 35 at bats I was barely hitting .200 and at the end of the season I was hitting pretty close to .270. Even in the Fall League I started off slow in the first 10, 15 at bats and then after that I got it going. I get a little tentative maybe trying to hard early and then get into a good flow and back to my old self.

Considering his sluggish start in Mobile, the turnaround in a pitchers league was tougher than most may think. He ended the year hitting .262 in Mobile. His strikeouts were up, but it was part of the development process and getting used to the new environment.

"When I went into Elsinore, I started off pretty good hitting, which is always good to get a good hitting start. I have to really focus when I start this next season, if I am in Double-A or in Triple-A, that I get down and dirty early and really concentrate."

It is likely Furmaniak will start the year in Mobile in 2004 and a fast start could earn him another promotion, this time to Triple-A, or more importantly, one step away from the Majors.

Denis Savage can be reached at

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