The starting shortstop, for now. There are persistent rumors that the Braves will move him to second base to save his shoulder. Leaving aside that second is (usually) a more grueling position than short, the Rafael Furcal of 2001-02 really isn’t a productive player if he’s not a shortstop. In 2000, he had a year straight out of the career of his then-infield mate Quilvio Veras, hitting .295/.394/.382 and stealing 40 bases in 54 attempts. The last two seasons, he’s hit .275 with OBPs in the low .320s. If he hits like he did as a rookie, he can carry second base. Otherwise, he’s not useful. Even if he stays at short, if he keeps up with the .320 OBP the Braves need to consider making someone else the leadoff hitter.
Hard to say what’s wrong. To a degree I blame Merv Rettenmund, who screwed up a whole lot of Braves hitters in his two years with the team. Rettenmund didn’t like Furcal as a lefthanded hitter, as I recall, and wanted him to hit righty full-time. Furcal himself is probably to blame as well; he’s trying to hit home runs too much, and mostly winds up flying out instead. I’m not generally sympathetic with the “hit the ball on the ground and use your speed” school, but the fact is that what he’s doing now isn’t working.
His defense at both positions has improved greatly from his rookie year, though he still makes more errors than Bobby would like. I don’t really care that much about errors… He was caught stealing 15 times in 42 attempts last year, a little below the traditional break-even point… Grounded into eight double plays last year. That’s not a high number at all, but he had only 2 as a rookie. Is he slowing down?