Arm power: Furcal edges Rolen

Originally Published: February 10, 2005
By Phil Rogers | Special to ESPN.com

Some people like Bach, some like Bachman Turner Overdrive. Some people like the city, some like the country. Some like chocolate, some like vanilla.

That's the way it is in deciding which major league infielder has the best arm. There's no question that it's either Rafael Furcal or Scott Rolen, but in what order?

There is no correct answer.

If you like first basemen with bruised hands, Furcal is your guy. If you like quick releases and the accuracy of laser-guided missiles, Rolen is your guy.

You can't go wrong either way. As many scouts and coaches will say Rolen as Furcal. But for the tiebreaker, we turned to a scout who loves Rolen as much as any player in baseball, who calls him the best third baseman he's ever seen -- better than Brooks Robinson even -- and he picked the guy with the loudest cannon.

So, albeit with some reluctance, will we. Give the edge to Furcal over Rolen, but by a smaller margin than Bush carried Florida in 2000.

"It is so close that it's splitting hairs,'' the scout said, "but I have seen Furcal dominate a game with his arm.''

That's hard to do when you're not pitching, but this scout swears he has seen Atlanta's shortstop take over games because of his ability to turn impossible double plays and take away infield hits.

Scott Rolen
Rolen

Rafael Furcal
Furcal

"I've seen Furcal do things that nobody else does at shortstop,'' said the scout. "I've seen him play deep, lay back and throw out guys who can really run. He doesn't have as quick of a release as Scott does, but he's got a little more velocity. I'd give both of them the highest grades I can give but because of his velocity, Furcal is just a little better.''

While Rolen has won six Gold Gloves at third base, Furcal has never been recognized for his fielding skills. That's probably because he has averaged 27 errors the last three seasons.

"He gets careless,'' a scout said. "You have guys like (Vladimir) Guerrero who have a great arm and that becomes a problem. They make a lot of ill-advised throws, don't hit the cutoff man. Oftentimes the guys with the strongest arms don't have the most accurate arms. In that regard, Rolen is better than Furcal. He is more accurate, and he gets rid of the ball quicker than Furcal does.''

Rolen had 10 errors in 141 games last year. He hasn't had more than 14 in a season since 1997. But while he almost never makes mistakes, it is Furcal who can dominate with his arm. Consider that the tiebreaker in a two-horse race.

Alex Rodriguez is widely regarded as having the best infield arm in the American League but, according to scouts, he does not compare to Furcal or Rolen. So take your pick -- Bach or BTO, vanilla or chocolate?

Phil Rogers is the national baseball writer for the Chicago Tribune, which has a Web site at www.chicagosports.com.

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