His teammates call him "el enano," Spanish for "the dwarf." And Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox says, "This kid is legit. He's a player who can help us win."
His name is Rafael Furcal, and the gifted rookie is the new full-time shortstop for the Atlanta Braves. At 5 ft., 9 in. and 160 pounds, the 19-year-old Furcal is shaking up Major League Baseball with his fast feet and powerful arm.
Giants manager Dusty Baker said Furcal is more than just fast. "In two steps, he's full speed. That makes him different than someone who's just fast." Braves right fielder Brian Jordan says of his new teammate: "Man, that dude is exciting...."
Q: Where is Furcal from?
A: The Dominican Republic. He got his start with the Atlanta Braves minor league Class A team first in Macon, Ga., and then in Myrtle Beach, S.C. He jumped from Class A to the major leagues within three minor league seasons. In March, the Braves decided that the infielder, who stole 96 bases last year in Class A, was ready for the majors. "I feel very, very excited," said Furcal of his promotion. "When you're young, you've got to work hard every day and learn."
Q: How did he get to be the full-time shortstop for the Braves?
A: Regular shortstop Walt Weiss was placed on the disabled list and Furcal stepped in to take his place. Furcal has already compiled impressive stats. After 44 games, his batting average is .311. He has stolen 10 bases in 12 tries. And his on-base percentage is .401 (anything above .400 is excellent). His only downside? Errors. He's committed 10 of them so far this season. But hey, three out of four statistics ain't bad.
Q: Who are the other exciting rookies to watch for this season?
A: In his major league debut last week, first baseman Pat Burrell of the Philadelphia Phillies had two hits and two RBIs. The Phillies have high hopes that Burrell will turn into a premier slugger. Rick Ankiel has become one of the major leagues' best young pitchers, with a 5-2 record and 3.70 ERA for the St. Louis Cardinals. Mark McGwire has nicknamed Ankiel's sharp curveball the "snapdragon."
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