Sam Fuld was selected in the 10th round of the 2004 draft from Stanford, but due to a shoulder injury toward the end of his college career, he forewent debuting in the Chicago Cubs farm system until the following spring. (He was also drafted the previous year by the Cubs in 2003, but chose to return to Stanford for his senior season.)
To begin 2005, Fuld was assigned to Peoria, the Cubs Class Mid-A, full season affiliate where he originally got off to a slow start. After one month with the club, Fuld was batting below the Mendoza Line and only .227 after his second month. In addition, he had missed a handful of games after jamming his shoulder while sliding into third base in early May.
Things began to take a turn for the better in June and by early July, Fuld was batting above .280 thanks to a 17-game hitting streak.
He was drawing walks and would finish the year with an impressive .377 on-base percentage, drawing more base on balls than strikeouts (50 to 44 by comparison). Fuld finished the year with an even .300 average at the plate and 18 stolen bases in 29 attempts.
Since minor league prospects and coaches alike often stress the importance of finishing the season on a strong note as opposed to starting the year on one, Fuld was asked which he deemed more important.
"It's hard to say," he said. "Obviously the entire season is the most important thing. Mentally, it's a little easier to get off to a good start. You get off to a slow start and it can be hard to dig yourself out of it. It's an advantage mentally, but if you finish well, that can be really important because you can play off it going into the following year. There are pros and cons either way."
Now beginning his second full season with the Cubs, Fuld has hit safely in his first three games at Daytona with five hits in 13 at-bats, although he has yet to draw a walk.
He doesn't subscribe to the infamous "sophomore jinx" theory many talented prospects have looming over their heads entering their second season.
"I've never truly bought into it," said Fuld. "I know a lot of people come off great initial years and struggle their second time around, but I think just as frequently, people have a rough first year and then a great second year."
While at Stanford, Fuld maintained a consistent knack for getting on base in his four years with the Cardinal. His worst on-base percentage for any season was a .388 mark his final year there. He also swung the bat well, finishing his collegiate career with a .332 average in four seasons.
It's still early, but Fuld seems to be copying the blueprint for his success with Stanford and strongly implementing it into his professional career.
Entering the year, he was given the award for "Best Strike Zone Discipline" by Baseball America.
"It's quite an honor because of the great amount of players in this organization," Fuld said. "To be recognized like that is great. It's something I've always prided myself on and it's nice to be noticed for it."
Fuld is the type of player that Oakland General Manager Billy Beane -- practitioner and ultimate leader of the recent "Moneyball" movement that many other clubs have tried to imitate -- would salivate over.
Not only does Fuld genuinely practice the art of getting on base with much consistency (as evidenced by his numbers over the years), he deems it priority number one.
"There's a lot of truth in that theory, about getting on base," Fuld said. "I've always believed that, especially as a leadoff guy, it's all about getting on base. That's the most important thing. Walks are obviously a huge tool and a great way to get on base. Walks and hit-by-pitches is pretty much the same thing. I just look to maximize the times I get on base."
On Saturday, Fuld picked up two hits atop the lineup and scored his team's only run in Daytona's 7-1 loss to Brevard County.
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