Rafael Furcal was the catalyst for some fun Atlanta Braves offenses in the early-2000s, including the record-setting 2003 lineup. Before he embarked on his successful 14-year career, he was one of baseball’s top prospects.
Let’s take a walk down Braves memory lane and look at the career of the 2000 National League Rookie of the Year.
Rafael Furcal, a top-10 MLB prospect
Furcal grew up in the Dominican Republic, son to one of the better Dominican ballplayers of his time and brother to Manuel Furcal who wound up pitching a few seasons in lower-level ball for the Seattle Mariners.
The Braves signed Furcal to a $5,000 deal in 1996 at the age of 17... or was it 19? It would take us a few years to find out that answer, but Furcal began is professional career in the Gulf Coast League in 1997. It was a big 1998 year in the Appalachian League that put Furcal on the board. He hit .328 with a league-best 60 stolen bases in just 66 games. That performance propelled Furcal into Baseball America’s top-100, making his debut at No. 60 for the 1999 season.
The then-second baseman shifted to the left side of the infield and found his permanent home at shortstop that year. He split the season between Low and High-A and made a Futures Game appearance. Furcal was quick, not only on the base paths but in the field, swift with the glove, armed with one of the most powerful arms in the minors and making a name for himself as an all-around player. He entered the 2000 season as the top prospect in the Braves system and the No. 8 prospect in all of MLB according to Baseball America.
Rafael Furcal’s big debut MLB season
Baseball’s eighth-best prospect played all of three games in Double-A in the 2000 calendar year. He became the Braves everyday shortstop and ran away (pun intended) with the National League Rookie of the Year award. He hit .295 with a .776 OPS while scoring 87 runs and swiping 40 bases.
It was around this time that rumblings of Furcal’s age came into question. After getting pulled over for a DUI and underage drinking, it turned out that Furcal was not underage. Later it came out that he was roughly two years older than he said he was, claiming a scout told him that saying he was younger improved his chances of getting signed.
It didn’t matter. After an injury-riddled 2001 campaign, Furcal found himself some pop. After hitting eight home runs in 2002, he erupted in 2003. He slashed .292/.352/.443 scoring 130 runs and belting 25 doubles, a NL-best 10 triples and 15 home runs to go along with 25 stolen bases. It was the first of Furcal’s three career All-Star seasons. He also led the league in assists that season, the first of two times doing so, and turned an unassisted triple play.
Furcal put in two more solid seasons for the Braves before signing a big deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2006. He finished a six-year career in Atlanta with a .284/.348/.409 slash line, 189 stolen bases, and a 17.9 fWAR.
That 17.9 fWAR was the best amongst NL shortstops over the six years he was in Atlanta (per Mark Bowman).
Furcal’s post-Braves career
Furcal played in parts of nine more seasons with the Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals and a brief stint with the Miami Marlins. A controversial signing with the Dodgers in 2008 did come with a fire truck attached, which he donated to his home town in the Dominican, so he always had a passion for his homeland.
The shortstop missed the 2013 season after Tommy John surgery in the spring and never fully recovered. He was a Rookie of the Year, earned three total All-Star nods and won a World Series in 2011 with the Cardinals before retiring in 2015.
That made Furcal eligible for the Hall of Fame this year. He was solid defensively and put together a nice resume, finishing his career with a .281/.346/.402 slash line, 314 stolen bases, 1,063 runs scored and over 1,800 hits. His 39.5 career bWar is also impressive.
Alas, Furcal is not a Hall of Famer, but he is certainly one of the greatest Braves shortstops to suit up in franchise history.
Did you hear? Thanks to you, our dear readers enjoying this series, we have our own Prospect Retrospect hub page now! Be sure to check out those prospects we have already looked at and keep up with who is yet to come below: