Furcal on jump from A-ball to majors: “Baseball is the same”

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Rafael Furcal doesn’t know shortstop prospect Andrelton Simmons, but Furcal did what Simmons hopes to do –  jump directly from Class A to the major leagues with the Braves.

Furcal made Atlanta’s opening day roster in 2000 as a 22-year-old with no minor league experience above Class A , then unseated veteran Walt Weiss and went on to win National League Rookie of the Year.

“You’ve got to be mentally and physically ready and don’t change anything,” said Furcal, who doesn’t think the difference in playing levels is such a big deal. “Just keep playing the same way in the major leagues as you played in the minor leagues, because baseball is the same everywhere.”

Simmons, 22, played at high-A Lynchburg in 2011 and is competing with Tyler Pastornicky for the Braves shortstop job. Neither has major league experience. Pastornicky, 22, came to camp as the projected 2012 shortstop after a breakout season in Double-A and Triple-A.

He hit .314 with a .359 on-base percentage, seven homers and 27 stolen bases in 117 games, including .365 with a .407 OBP in 27 games at Triple-A Gwinnett before spraining an ankle.

Pastornicky has played 406 minor league games including 155 above A-ball. Simmons has 193 games, all in rookie league or Class A. But Simmons has played exceptional defense this spring and been a little better offensively (6-for-30, triple, two walks) than Pastornicky (5-for-40, one walk).

“Just let them play,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said.  “Spring training has a way of answering your questions for you. So just continue to play games and watch and observe, and let all those things play out.”

Simmons was drafted as a pitcher and many doubted he could ever hit enough to be a position player. That was before he won the Carolina League batting title with a  .311 average at Lynchburg, compiling a .351 on-base percentage with 35 doubles and six triples.

“He answered that question pretty much for us last year,”  Wren said. “Going into last season we were worried that we were pushing him a little too fast. He was one of the guys that we were most concerned about breaking camp a year ago, putting him in the Carolina League. He answered that pretty significantly, and just kind of took off from there.”

Furcal, 34, was back at the Braves’ spring training ballpark Monday with the St. Louis Cardinals, whom he helped them win the World Series last fall. He was asked if there was an particularly difficult part of the  jump from Class A to the majors 12 years ago.

“For me, nothing,” he said, smiling.  “I won Rookie of the Year, hit .295 and played good defense.”

He did make the transition appear seamless in 2000, posting a .394 on-base percentage and 40 stolen bases to go with that .295 average in 131 games for the Braves.

The previous year in the minors, Furcal hit .322 with a .392 OBP and a whopping  96 steals in 126 games at low-A Macon and high-A Myrtle Beach.

He conceded it wasn’t the same playing in the majors and minors, even if he had similar success.

“The thing is, you have to learn to play with big-league guys,” Furcal said. “A lot of base hits you have in the minor leagues are going to be outs in the big leagues. And then some plays you make easy in the minor leagues are going to be tougher [in the majors]. Everybody’s better. The hitters’ approach is better and they hit the ball harder than in the minor leagues.”

He went to spring training as a non-roster invitee in 2000, as did Simmons this spring.

“I expected to play at least in Double-A [in 2000], but I played pretty good in winter ball and I think some scouts  from the Braves saw me play over there,” Furcal recalled. “They invited me to come to spring training, and I remember what Fernando Tatis told me – he played on the same team as me in the Dominican Republic – he said you never know what might happen, everybody in spring training is trying to make the team. When they give you the chance try to do the best you can.”

43 comments Add your comment

ChopAttack

March 19th, 2012
4:29 pm

If both guys are going to be a work-in-progress at the plate the advantage has to go to the guy with the better glove.

TheOnlyBravesFan

March 19th, 2012
4:32 pm

Yep! and 2nd

urban redneck

March 19th, 2012
4:41 pm

can’t greg norton play SS?

trueblue902

March 19th, 2012
4:45 pm

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE DEFENSE AT SHORTSTOP, ANY SIGNIFICANT HITTING IS JUST A BONUS!

hmmmm

March 19th, 2012
4:46 pm

Did Furcal also advise to make sure the kid gets a designated driver?

the smell of fresh cut grass is in the air

March 19th, 2012
4:49 pm

DOB, What’s up with Terdo or whatever his nickname is?

Pete*

March 19th, 2012
4:49 pm

“He was asked if there was an particularly difficult part of the jump from Class A to the majors 12 years ago.

“For me, nothing,” he said, smiling. “I won Rookie of the Year, hit .295 and played good defense.”

He forgot to mention the great bars in Atlanta were certainly not a difficult transition lol

BLK09GT

March 19th, 2012
4:50 pm

ChopAttack, I agree and we both know who that is. Give the kid a shot. Maybe he will turn into another Furcal. Man I miss that guy.

Bob the Blogger

March 19th, 2012
5:12 pm

Furcal was listed as the #8 prospect by Baseball America before the 2000 season. Simmons is near the bottom of BBA’s top 100. That doesn’t mean he can’t make the transition, but shows what an exceptional prospect Furcal was. Chipper said that sometimes Simmons is over matched. I would hate to see that on a regular basis; it could have a negative effect on him. That being said, the same could happen to Pastornicky, although he has a lot more exposure to high level pitching. Stay tuned, as they say…

bfred

March 19th, 2012
5:21 pm

Good thing Furcal turned out to be 22 instead of 19.

The missing comparison (other than raw steals stats) is speed. Furcal moved so quickly between the bases, if you looked away for a second he had gone from first to third. I’d never seen anything like it.

richbrave

March 19th, 2012
5:28 pm

Let’s put the two of them in the futures machine and clone the pair into one monster SS, THE REV’s bat with ANDY’s glove. Throw the remaining halves away.

Columbus

March 19th, 2012
5:29 pm

LOL its all about defense is right but not many of you were saying that the last couple years wanting to get rid of Gonzalez because of his lousy hitting. That being said I do agree that you have to go with defense over everything else and if both are playing good defense, then who has better OBP and who is making solid contact more than the other. I havent watched enough myself to make an opinion and I just say

“may the best player in spring get the job and the selection not be made on hype, expectancy or one player having played at a higher level. May the BEST man to help the Braves in 2012 get the job.”

V. Guerrero in LF before Prado? Are you insane?! Can Guerrero still walk or is he toted around the outfield these days? As a BACKUP perhaps but not starter. Prado is going to have a monster year! Heck we have Diaz and Heinske already and I like Heinske. Guerrero as another RH bat? I can see that. Guerrero instead of Diaz as a backup but not Heinske. No way.

Felix

March 19th, 2012
5:36 pm

The double crossing Furcal is the most low down ex-Brave ever.

PMC

March 19th, 2012
5:37 pm

yeah baseball is the same everywhere, whatever. No it’s not, otherwise people would pay the same money to watch college and high school ball.

A ball is COMPLETELY different from the majors because everyone in the majors is the best in their area. If you make it to “the show” you are a freaking stud period.

Of course you want to just keep playing as well as you did at the lower level, the question is can you?

dogsbrekky

March 19th, 2012
5:44 pm

“The double crossing Furcal is the most low down ex-Brave ever.”

Not that there is anything… ughhh doesnt matter

I’d play the Simmons kid SS… much better talent than the Vicarsnicky

Mark (another one)

March 19th, 2012
5:44 pm

Gonzales was an expensive no-hit SS, but a great fielder. The hope was that Pastornicky would be able to provide a similar combination at a lower price. Simmons might be able to as well.

Remember that professional teams discount the experience of college players, so the Braves have Pasternicky ahead of Simmons. That might be true, but people mature at different rates and have spurts. There’s nothing wrong with playing the hot hand. They each have a couple of more weeks to demonstrate their skills and convince the Braves to bring them north. Let the hottest player win.

As for Guerrero, I trust that the Braves have looked at him and made their decision. I’m looking forward to the bench decisions but if Guerrero was a possibility, I bet the Braves would have moved that way by now. My belief is that he is only being looked at as a potential DH for an AL team.

Tip O' the Cap

March 19th, 2012
6:11 pm

@dogsbrekky Tip of the cap to you sir! It’s been a tough work day, and I really needed those laughs!

So after a night of hard drinking back in the college days, my buddy would always say to me, “you look like the dog’s breakfast.” Probably still do.

EW

March 19th, 2012
6:23 pm

Offense looks to be anemic yet again…and so the saga continues. I promise you guys that no matter what, Wren will be shopping for an experienced shortstop soon. And the left side of the infield is becoming a huge liability. The over under on Chipper is 50 starts. Takers? Once again, our pitchers will have to be perfect to win…because offense costs money and we ain’t spending.

Bravesfan54

March 19th, 2012
6:46 pm

Alex Gonzalez was not adequate at SS last year. .241BA, .281OBP, but he did hit 15 dingers and made only 12 errors. He will be replaced, of course, by a minor leaguer with no major league experience. If either prospect comes close to AG’s production (slim tho’ it be), I’ll be quite surprized. Are we calling our new SS (either of the prospects) an improvement over last year, or are we building for the future? (I am not factoring in Jack Wilson, who brings only intangibles to the table, not hard numbers.

Chuck

March 19th, 2012
6:49 pm

The infield will be fine. Chipper had a great year at third last year. Scoring runs so we don’t have to O’FlahVenBrel every night will be the key, and so far it looks like that’s the challenge to focus on. How is Diaz hitting this spring? His career could really use anotyher .300+ season. Must be boring for Wren to have to choose the affordable youth answer for every question.

Bravos

March 19th, 2012
6:50 pm

EW you don’t have a clue! Even if chipper doesn’t play 50 games…Prado and Simmons on the left side would be unbelievable! If anything he will be looking for a RH big bat for left if chippers out for good..

Bravos

March 19th, 2012
6:55 pm

Simmons will start on opening day..he will WOW us in every game at SS. Let him learn to hit big league pitching on the job. Be patient folks he seems to be the real deal..

NavyBrave

March 19th, 2012
7:35 pm

I’m with you Bravos. That Simmons kid is amazing at SS and I really hope he get’s the job. Even without experience above A ball, he is still doing better offensively than Pastornicky. He just doesn’t look like he is ready for the pressure of the Majors. Some are and some aren’t.

Nova Scotia Steve

March 19th, 2012
7:53 pm

While this SS “battle” has been interesting it’s Simmons all the way.

It’s not even a battle anymore 5 for 40 and one or two above average plays from Pastornicky??? Brutal.

I can’t believe this is how the Braves went I to this ST at short stop.

David O'Brien

March 19th, 2012
7:55 pm

DOB, What’s up with Terdo or whatever his nickname is?

What’s up with him? In what way? He’s a kid who made himself into a prospect with a big year last year at Lynchburg, broke 60-something-year-old league doubles record and then went to Fall League and kept raking. Switch-hitter who played 1B last year but will play 3B this year, Braves want to see if he could be heir to Jones at 3B.

Bob the Blogger

March 19th, 2012
8:01 pm

My concern is that neither player may be ready by opening day. Simmons is hitting .200 and Pastornicky is hitting .125. Ideally, Simmons should start at AA and Pastornicky should continue in AAA. That only leaves us Wilson and Sutton, and Wilson is going to be a few weeks behind.

It’s interesting that last year that some Braves acted as if they didn’t care if Gonzalez hit as long he played defense. Then they didn’t resign him because he didn’t hit enough. Now some are saying we don’t care if Simmons hits as long as he plays good defense.

Largo

March 19th, 2012
8:35 pm

AGon was excellent on defense last year but was criticized for his lack of hitting. Whoever plays SS this year will not be any better and maybe less gifted than he was on defense. Also, they probably won’t get the fifteen home runs that AGon had last year.

phil

March 19th, 2012
8:39 pm

Terd…

Heir apparent with a name like that?

Seriously, good luck replacing that guy.

Ralph

March 19th, 2012
9:23 pm

Bravesfan54
March 19th, 2012,
6:46 pm

Very good point, only reason they decided to go with Pastronicky instead of re-signing A-Gone, $$$$

Liberty Cheapia Executives

March 19th, 2012
9:32 pm

You fans should know that we have been happy to own the Braves. They have generated so much cash for us by being an excellent tax write off that we have been able to increase our bonuses by 50%.

Honest Ingine

March 19th, 2012
9:43 pm

Raffy, We wanted RBI’s not DUI’s ….

Bobby

March 19th, 2012
9:59 pm

if simmons is the braves shortstop of the future, then they need to wait until he is major league ready. if they start the season with him and they figure out he is not ready, then his confidence will plummit and the braves will have no shortstop

Coach

March 19th, 2012
10:44 pm

You have to go with the best player in the spring. If things progress the way that they are, then Simmons would or should get the job. They have said all along that if their shortstop plays solid defense, that is all that they are concerned about. Anything average or above with the bat will be a bonus. Pastornicky doesn’t appear solid in either. I think that Simmons should get the opening gig at short. If he struggles, you will see Wilson get some starts and a trade might transpire afterwards. The Braves have a few mill to spend on immediate needs if necessary to fill any glaring needs. As far as our regulars go, they are starting to get their hits in. The Braves filled their immediate need this offseason by acquiring a proven hitting coach. Not only did they get one, but a assistant as well. During Walker’s tenure at Chicago (8 years), the White Sox was 3rd in homers, and in the top 5 in runs scored. He has a World Series ring to go with his resume. People say that he destroyed Adam Dunn and screwed him up. It takes time for players to trust and believe in a coach. Was there a personality clash? Who knows, but look at players that came out of Chicago, Konerko, Thomas, Quentin. Konerko credits his hitting success to Walker. The Braves took Parrish on high recommendations from other people, he’s a worker, blah, blah, blah, and look what it got us. I can fully understand if a player or two slumps, but the whole team???? Parrish was in way over his head and always told his players to be aggressive. That and his lack of communicating killed the braves last year. How many times did you see players going to parrish during pregame batting practice? None. What about during the games? None. Did anyone once see Parrish at the top step watching his players during an at bat during a game? You guessed it folks, never. This team is not a .243 hitting team. You can look at everybody up and down the lineup and check the yearly stats, everybody had taken a major hit in every major catorgory. There was not 1 braves player that had more than 70 walks last year! Chipper led the team in walks, and I believe that he had 63 or 65 walks. People have to realize that as badly as they performed offensively last year, they still won 89 games and hit in the .240’s. This season there will be an upgrade overall in the lineup as far as the offense goes. As to how much better they will perform will remain to be seen, and if the pitching can be anywhere close as to what they were last year, there shouldn’t be much doubt as to why they cannot win 95+ games.

Choppinmama

March 19th, 2012
11:22 pm

I just can’t believe we’re in the position to have to use either Pastornicky or Simmons to start the season. What happens when either or both don’t produce as the season progresses?
Simmons will probably mature a little more stature-wise, still a skinny little guy. Pastor looks a little overmatched to me. Both have a few more weeks to make their case but I’ll bet Pastor heads to atl no matter how the rest of his spring goes. Andrelton is too much of a gamble.

lifelong braves fan

March 20th, 2012
1:32 am

Both are better than Darrell Chaney, Pat Rockett, Larvell Blanks, or Andres Thomas.

lifelong braves fan

March 20th, 2012
1:35 am

Hey Coach, can you summarize or get your own blog. Writing a novel in the comments section is bush league.

William

March 20th, 2012
2:17 am

What has happened to the Braves when we can’t have an experienced player at every position? Why are we playing rookies? Look at the contenders and they all have experienced players at every position. The Braves need to get experience. Veterans win games.

Ralph

March 20th, 2012
5:00 am

William
March 20th, 2012
2:17 am

Freeman was a rookie last year, Chipper was a rookie when he played his first season with the Braves.

Bob the Blogger

March 20th, 2012
8:45 am

I don’t mind the Braves having a rookie; every team has call up their prospects eventually. However, I would like to see players develop enough in the upper minors to the point that they really don’t have anything else to prove there. I thought Pastornicky was nearly ready, and apparently so did the Braves. I’m wondering if he’s really that overmatched by ML pitching, or if he’s just putting too much pressure on himself.

htownbravesfan

March 20th, 2012
12:56 pm

Let’s face facts. Unless there is a trade of some sort, which isn’t likely, offensive production from the shortstop postition this season will range anywhere from little to none. I hate to be so pessimistic about our offense, but it’s a good bet we’ll finish somewhere near the bottom in runs and extra base hits, and at the bottom in home runs. We will struggle to score, and the bullpen will be spent by early August because of all of the close games.

htownbravesfan

March 20th, 2012
12:58 pm

Ralph, most experts that know more about baseball than you and I had Chipper and Freeman pegged as major league ready. Neither shortstop, from everything I have read, have received that tag.

O'flarity's water bottle

March 20th, 2012
5:01 pm

DOB, Which team had the worst record to win the world series?

O'flarity's water bottle

March 20th, 2012
5:04 pm

My neighborhood was so tuff, the local resturant served broken leg of lamb.

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