A couple weeks ago we heard the terrible news that one of our favorite kids had lost a battle with the disease Lupus. Jonathan Figueroa passed away November 8th due to complications from the disease. We at Perfect Game spent a lot of time getting to know Jonathan, who spelled his name Jhonathan back then.
We at Perfect Game run across thousands of young players each year. All of these kids are important to us. Some of these kids have a very special meaning to us. One such young man came all the way from Venezuela to Cedar Rapids Iowa to live at our facility for over a year. Jonathan Figueroa was a big left handed pitcher, with a soft body and some very good potential when we first saw him. He was the definition of raw, but there was something very special about Jonathan. Yes he had talent as a pitcher, but more importantly he was simply one of the nicest, most polite, honest kids we have ever known.
Most of 2001 Jonathan lived in Iowa, right through the winter, in fact. He wasn’t alone as his mentor Jose Ortega and another Venezuelan kid, Marvin Urdaneta all became a fixture at Perfect Game. Every day, even in the cold winter, Jonathan, Marvin and Jose would be working out inside the PG facility.
Marvin an outfielder was one of the fastest players we have ever had. He too was a little raw, but the potential was there. Marvin did end signing and played professional baseball in the Diamondbacks organization. Once again, Marvin and Jonathan were both very special kids who were willing to work hard to get their chance to play professional baseball.
Jonathan had lots of potential, however, we did wonder if he would ever be “mean” enough to reach his potential, he was just so damn nice. He also needed to work hard to keep from gaining too much weight. Jose Ortega did a great job of keeping those kids in good shape. It was really funny watching those guys walk into the building in the dead of winter in Iowa. They had on so many layers of clothes that it took them forever to shed everything before starting to workout. Not once did they ever complain about anything.
2001 PG National Showcase - Tropicana Field
After attending several PG events and playing in the PG Wood Bat Leagues, Jonathan started gaining some interest from scouts. We can’t remember how many discussions we had regarding scouts wanting to sign Jonathan for $25,000 to $50,000.
Yet another Venezuelan pitcher, RHP, Alfredo Fernandez, came to play in our wood bat league in Iowa. Fernandez was the #1 prospect in Venezuela and the star of their Junior National Team. Both Jonathan and Fernandez pitched in one of our league game in Southern Minnesota. To us it was quite obvious that Jonathan was the better prospect of the two. Several scouts on hand said Fernandez was the best and he did have the better resume. Todd Oakes (U of Minnesota Pitching Coach) was there at that game. When the scouts left I asked him which pitcher he liked the best, he said, I like the Lefty a lot more. He didn’t get caught up in all the hype over the other kid. Then the following week the San Diego Padres came to Cedar Rapids and signed Fernandez for something like $500,000 or more. Jonathan was still being offered a few thousand.
I would talk to Jonathan and Jose and say, if he wants to go sign he should do it, but I really think if he keeps working hard he will be worth much more before long. Jonathan was doubtful and said maybe that’s all I’m worth, maybe I should sign. Then we would build him up and talk about his potential, telling him he was better than Fernandez. After a while he would smile and get back to work. They did keep working and Jonathan just kept getting better and more well known. Then in front of several Scouting Directors at the World Showcase in Ft Myers Florida, he showed people that he was ready. This was to be his last PG event.
Here is our report on Jonathan from that World Showcase in 2001.
We have seen Figueroa as much as anyone. He had one of his better performances in Ft Myers. In fact, he was the number one pitcher there. Lots of 90 to 92’s, some guns even read 93’s and 94’s with plus life. If that wasn’t enough he flashed a few plus curve balls and a good change up. His command was outstanding and he looked like a man among boys. Figueroa is 18 years old, 6’5 and left handed. We have had the opportunity to get to know him and he has championship caliber make up. Chances are he will be signing because he created some serious interest at the World Showcase. Some claim we have been too high on Figueroa. Time will answer that question, we expect to see him pitching in the Big Leagues.
It was only a short time later that Logan White and the Dodgers asked him to come out to LA and they signed Jonathan for a very large bonus. I still remember Jonathan calling me from Los Angeles after he signed. He was so happy and thankful. He ended that phone call in his broken English saying “I will never forget Perfect Game, I love you guys”!
As is often the case, we sort of lose track of kids as they get involved in professional baseball. We did follow Jonathan as he went about his career, making our past opinion look accurate. He quickly became one of the very top pitching prospects in professional baseball. Some even rated him the #1 pitching prospect in baseball. We were so happy for this outstanding young kid who had worked so hard. We were certain he was going to pitch in the Big leagues and this time many others shared our opinion.
At age 18 in his very first year of professional baseball Jonathan was sent to Great Falls Montana to pitch in the Pioneer League, a league full of older prospects. He started 7 games, compiling a 1.42 ERA while dominating hitters. He gave up only 16 hits in 32 innings. He struck out 48 hitters in those 32 innings. The Dodgers quickly promoted him to their A league team, South Georgia in the Sally league. Jonathan also dominated the Sally League compiling a 5-2 record, the exact same 1.42 ERA, in 44.1 innings he gave up only 22 hits while striking out 57. His first year stats were unbelievable. 6-3 record, 76.1 innings pitched, gave up only 38 hits, struck out 105 batters while compiling a 1.42 earned run average. Jonathan was on the fast track.
The next spring, things started going the other direction. We were told that Jonathan showed up out of shape. He then went through a series of arm injuries and never regained his status as a top prospect. Eventually the Dodgers released Jonathan, but he didn’t hang it up, he continued to try to regain his former pitching ability in the Independent Leagues. Word was that Jonathan was in fact making big strides with the Saltdogs in Lincoln Nebraska. After one of his starts in Nebraska last year he went to Florida to see his family. While there he was diagnosed with the disease “Lupus”. Later, the very sad news that the disease had claimed Jonathan’s life.
I remember talking to Logan White a few years ago about Jonathan. It didn’t surprise me that Logan also loved this young kid. Everyone loved Jonathan.
Last year, I got am unexpected phone call. It took me awhile to figure out who was on the other end of the phone. Then it hit me, it was Jonathan. The same old Jonathan, wanting to know how everyone was. His English much improved but still far from perfect.
He called to tell me he was sorry for letting us down and that he still plans on making us proud, he said he was working hard and he plans on making it back. I told him we were already very proud of him. I asked him how things were going and he made it sound nothing less than positive. He talked about his family and said they were going to come visit us someday. He said, I will never forget what you guys did for me. Someday, I’m going to pay you back. I told Jonathan he didn’t owe us anything, it was just great getting to know him. I wished him luck, told him to keep working hard, and to stay in touch. This was the last time I would ever talk to Jonathan Figueroa. I remember that he closed by once again saying, I will never forget you guys.
Only 26 years old with a young family, one of the nicest kids I’ve ever known, and now gone. I’m sure there are many others who share my opinion of Jonathan Figueroa. He was a very special human being. Jonathan, speaking for everyone at Perfect Game… WE will never forget YOU!
Jonathan Figueroa (9/15/83) to (11/8/09)
Survived by wife Katitiana and two children, 5 year old son, Victor and 1 year old daughter Victoria.