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Former Dodgers prospect Figueroa passes away
Lupus takes pitcher's life at 26
By Doug Padilla
November 19, 2009
LOS ANGELES?Jonathan Figueroa, a former rising star in the Dodgers system who most recently pitched for the independent Lincoln Saltdogs, died Nov. 8 because of complications from lupus.
The 26-year-old was married and the father of two small children. He had been in the midst of a revival to his baseball career after a strong first half to the 2009 season.
Once a highly regarded prospect in the Dodgers sytsem, Figueroa, threw his last pitch less than four months before he passed away. He left behind his wife, Katitiana, 5-year-old son Victor, and 1-year-old daughter Victoria.
"When I first heard the news it was surreal; it was hard to believe," Saltdogs general manager Tim Utrup said. "He was having a good year, was named pitcher of the week and was only 26-years-old; that's what is shocking.
"You feel bad for the family and his two children who won't get the opportunity to know their father."
Dodgers head of scouting, Logan White, said it is important that Figueroa's children know that their father was an exceptional person.
"Sometimes life doesn't make sense, when the best of people die young," said White, whom Figueroa nicknamed 'Jefe,' Spanish for 'the boss. "I feel sad for his kids and his wife. He's a great, great person. I don't think there is anybody who would say otherwise."
Figueroa appeared destined for the major leagues after his first professional season. The hard-throwing lefthander was signed out of Venezuela and posted a combined 7-3, 1.42 record in 2002 at Rookie-level Great Falls and low Class A South Georgia.
He was rated the Dodgers' No. 2 prospect in the 2003 Prospect Handbook, behind the club's current first baseman James Loney and just ahead of Tigers righthander Edwin Jackson.
But a shoulder injury at the end of the 2002 season proved difficult to overcome. Figueroa struggled in subsequent seasons and never advanced past the Class A level. The Dodgers released him after the 2007 season.
"The hardest thing was when we had to release him because he couldn't do what he used to do," White said. "It's just terrible."
Figueroa was 3-5, 3.78 in 13 starts (16 appearances) this past season and was the American Association pitcher of the week June 1-7.
According to Utrup, Figueroa left the Saltdogs after a July 11 start to return to Florida and tend to personal matters with his family. He would never pitch again.
Indications are that while in Florida, Figueroa apparently started to feel the effects of a tick bite he likely received while pitching in the Midwest. While getting treatment for the bite, and possibly Lyme disease, his lupus was discovered.
Not knowing the severity of the situation, the Saltdogs exercised the 2010 option on Figueroa's contract on Oct. 23.
"He was definitely figuring it out," Utrup said. "Maybe he wasn't getting back to what he was when he was a young kid, but he was headed back into the right direction."
Utrup said the Saltdogs have just started talking about how they will remember Figueroa next season. White said he will explore the possibility of starting a trust fund for Figueroa's children.