Fields trying to ignore the hype
Prospect's success no surprise to the White Sox
TUCSON, Ariz. -- It's almost impossible for Josh Fields to avoid the hype surrounding his ever-developing on-field game.
Depending on when the topic has been addressed or the individual speaking on the subject at hand, Fields is alternately Chicago's third baseman of the future or left fielder of the future. And according to manager Ozzie Guillen, Fields was the most improved player in camp last spring.
But Fields simply smiles when reminded of the constant flow of "top prospect" propaganda, then explains how he doesn't buy into it for a moment. Instead the affable 24-year-old, who got married this offseason, thinks about a time with Double-A Birmingham during the 2005 season when his fortunes didn't look quite as golden.
"I like to think about my comfort level as being back in Birmingham when I was struggling," said Fields of how he stays on an even keel by thinking back to the rough start during his lone season in the Southern League. "It's kind of weird to say, but that struggling helped me out so much.
"Everyone says you hit the best when you are in a slump. You get to that point where you're like, 'You know what? I don't care. I'm just going out to swing.' I had that in Birmingham, and I would go into the games thinking, 'I've been to the lowest point [that] hopefully I'll get, so I might as well go out and swing.'
"My approach has been the same since then. I've been more focused earlier in the games, and that helps out a lot. But knowing I've struggled and been there already helps out even more."
Those days of Fields battling himself as well as the opposing pitcher probably can be classified as tough moments of the past. He finished that 2005 campaign in Birmingham with a respectable .252 average, 16 home runs and 79 RBIs, and followed the effort with a .305 average, 19 home runs and 70 RBIs for Triple-A Charlotte last season. He even picked up 28 stolen bases in 33 attempts after stealing just seven total over his first two Minor League seasons combined.
Fields earned International League Rookie of the Year honors in 2006, was named to the mid- and postseason IL All-Star Teams and earned a spot in the Futures Game at PNC Park in Pittsburgh during Major League's All-Star weekend. His development as an offensive force has continued this spring, with a .333 average, two home runs and seven RBIs in 25 Cactus League at-bats.
But success coming at such a quick rate for Fields comes as no surprise to the White Sox. The 18th pick overall in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft holds a slight edge over other young talent due to his competitive nature, which was honed on a national stage at Oklahoma State as a baseball player. He is also the career record-holder, with 55 touchdown passes, as the Cowboys' quarterback.
"He's a college kid, and there definitely is a difference," said hitting coach Greg Walker. "He's not only played in some big venues baseball-wise, but also with college football. So he should be farther along in the process.
"There's no intimidation for him with games up here. He's played well when he's played and made adjustments. When he's had bad games, he's made those adjustments on his own."
An up-close look at the club as we approach Opening Day
Ask Fields about the type of big-league player he envisions himself to be, whether it be hitting for power or hitting for average, and he repeats a mantra uttered previously by Guillen and third-base coach Razor Shines, who was Fields' Minor League manager. Play the game the right way, and the statistics will follow.
Everything about Fields seems to indicate Major League success, much sooner than later. Yet he remains a Major League-ready prospect without a position on the White Sox.
With Joe Crede not only entrenched at third base for possibly two more seasons but also developing into one of the game's high-caliber players at the hot corner, Fields' natural position looks presently occupied. The offseason focus had Fields moving to left field, where he played during Winter League action in Venezuela. But Darin Erstad's late addition via free agency knocked down playing time for such young outfield prospects as Ryan Sweeney and Jerry Owens, let alone an individual learning a new position on the fly.
Through early-morning work in the outfield, hours before the Cactus League games begin, the position still exists as a Major League possibility in Fields' mind.
"I have no idea how it will play out," he said. "The early work shows me they are thinking of me out there. As far as games, guys who have played there a long time had to get their looks and their reps."
When the 2007 season officially begins in a little less than two weeks, Fields will find himself primarily playing third base for the Knights while also getting a little outfield time in Charlotte. He won't start the campaign with the White Sox, but there's a very good chance he'll contribute significantly at some point along the way.
With one swing after his September callup in 2006, Fields put himself in the Chicago record books by joining Carlos Lee and Miguel Olivo as the only players in franchise history to homer in their first career at-bat. Fields puts forth a knowing smile when asks if he remembers the pitcher who yielded the blast, and promptly recites the name of former Detroit reliever and current Baltimore pitcher Jamie Walker.
But Fields does not have selective recall. He has just as vivid memories of his 11 hitless at-bats following the home run and the learning experience taken away from his first stint in the Majors.
It certainly won't be his last.
"The home run was awesome at the time, but all I heard from former coaches who were calling me was that it was all downhill from there," he said with a laugh. "When I was struggling to get my second hit, and it seemed at least 30 at-bats later, you quickly realize it's a completely different ballgame up here."
"Josh is an impressive kid as far as physical tools," Walker added. "He's had another really good Spring Training."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.