Padres prospect Q&A: J.J. Furmaniak

The Chicago area has certainly been a hotbed for baseball. Within driving distance you find five Major League Baseball Franchises, no less than eight minor league teams, and a slew of Division I programs. San Diego Padres infield prospect J.J. Furmaniak knows that, but after high school Furmaniak ended up at tiny Lewis College. A Division II school in the Great Lakes Valley Conference, it seemed a long way from where Furmaniak wanted to be, namely in the Majors.

James Renwick caught up with J.J. Furmaniak during a busy offseason that started south of the border to work on a new position, and could end in Petco Park on Opening Day.

James Renwick: You were a 22nd round pick, from a D2 school, you've heard this question before, but how did it happen that you made it this far, much less have a shot at making the big league club?

J.J. Furmaniak: Yeah, people have asked that one before. The thing with going to a DII school is that I didn't have to. I went to Bolingbrook High School (IL), and that's a big time football school, so it was a little harder to get recruited, and so I maybe didn't have as many choices. Lewis College is a small, private school, maybe 1000 people in the whole school, and they've got a real winning tradition, even if it is at the DII level.

James Renwick: You sound like you actually think it was a benefit that you went there.

J.J. Furmaniak: I got to devote three years to baseball, really focus on it in an environment where the coaches had the time to help me. There are no frats, and no frat parties, no distractions. I got to become a better baseball player, so I've never looked at myself as a DII player. I look at myself as a baseball player who went to a DII school. Athletically and physically I feel like I am just as good as any of the other guys I've seen who came out of high school or were at big DI schools.

James Renwick: You went to Mexico to learn to play second base, how's that going?

J.J. Furmaniak: I'm real happy with my progress. The first couple games I wasn't used to double plays, that took me a little time, but I just went out and took as many double play balls in practice as I could. I was in practice and in games everyday taking balls to my left, to my right, just getting my bearings at second.

James Renwick: What's the biggest difference between the three infield positions? Is there a different mindset you need to take into the different positions?

J.J. Furmaniak: Physically the biggest thing at second base is just that you have more time to gather and get a guy going down the line. At shortstop everything has to be clean, no bobbles, because you just don't have the time. Third is tougher, I've got the least experience there, going back to 2002 I'd never played third base. So really, even more than second, third base is the biggest adjustment for me. You get stuck between hops a lot more, and it was really tough for me. I had trouble because a lot of guys tell you at third all you have to do is knock the ball down and then throw it, but when I started to get comfortable there it was because I started playing it the same way as I play the middle infield. I stopped just trying to knock the ball down, I started trying to make plays. At short you get to more balls, so there are more chances to make errors, rushing a throw or just making an errant throw, and when you're just knocking down balls at third it's the same thing. After this winter down in Mexico I really feel comfortable at all three.

James Renwick: A career year in home runs for you. Was it a different approach at the plate?

J.J. Furmaniak: Every offseason I work in weight room, so I'm sure that helped, but I had always used a 33-inch, 30-ounce bat too. In the offseason I would train with a heavier bat and then for games I would go back to the lighter bat. This year I went to 34-inch 31-ounce bat, and I think the extra power came with the combination of the heavier bat, but the same bat speed.

James Renwick: Your strikeouts are higher this year too, is that just a result of the increased power?

J.J. Furmaniak: I really think the power just happened because of the bat, the strikeouts came from me tweaking my swing too much. I think what happened was that I started thinking about the Ks too much. I'd have a week where I would strike out 10 or 12 times, and I'd start trying to adjust, but the thing is it actually hurt me, making me uncomfortable in the box and that's the biggest reason the strikeouts are higher.

James Renwick: What else do you need to do to move up?

J.J. Furmaniak: I need to become a more consistent hitter. I've had holes in swing every year and that just means I'm going to have too many strikeouts. I'm not really a power hitter. I'm 5-foot-10, maybe 5-foot11, 200 pounds, so I need to put ball in play more. I'd like to hit .300 and I know to do that I need to shorten my swing. I've kind of got a power stroke, even though I don't hit for that much power, and I know I need to get the average up higher and that contact will help raise my RBIs and cut down the strikeouts.

James Renwick: Do you think you'll make the big league club this year?

J.J. Furmaniak: I'm trying to go into Spring Training without pressure, not trying to do to much. I give 100 percent every time I step on the field, and I think the coaches see that. If I don't make the big league club at the start of the season, I want to show the coaches that I'm ready to be called up. I'm really trying to be conscious of not trying to hit a home run every at bat , just staying humble and playing my game.

James Renwick: I know making the bigs is the ultimate goal, and you'd never pass up the opportunity, but honestly what would benefit you more, playing sporadically in the bigs or everyday at Double-A or Triple-A?

J.J. Furmaniak: [Laughs] Wow, that's a really good question. I've been in the minors for five years, and I think I've learned what I need to learn to contribute. At the same time, I'm competitive, and I want to play everyday. If I make the club I just want to contribute in the future. Things happen, and maybe I can get in the lineup as an everyday player, but I also think maybe I'm at the point where I need to watch the game at the Big League Level to pick up different things. One of the things I've learned is that every time I move up it's a different game. Guys are more mature, better, with more confidence and they do different things than the level below. I've seen those pitches, I've seen those situations, but I think maybe I'm at the point where I need to see the game at that top level if I want to continue to improve.

James Renwick can be reached at

MadFriars Top Stories