Name: Sam Fuld
Drafted: Selected in the 10th round of the 2004 draft by Cubs
H/W: 5'10'', 175
Along with pitcher Philip Humber, Sam Fuld is the most well-known member of the A's minor league free agent class for this season. Like Humber, Fuld has significant major-league experience. He has arguably the best chance of any A's minor league free agent to make Oakland's Opening Day roster.
Fuld is a familiar name to Bay Area baseball fans not just because of his big league time, but also for his collegiate career at Stanford. The New Hampshire native spent four seasons in the outfield for the Cardinal. Fuld was always a tough out with Stanford, walking more than he struck-out in three of his four seasons and posting a .413 OBP. While at Stanford, Fuld was teammates with current A's shortstop Jed Lowrie and former A's outfielder Danny Putnam.
After the Cubs drafted but failed to sign Fuld after his junior season, they selected him again in the 10th round in 2004. He wasn't able to make his professional debut until 2005, however, thanks to a shoulder injury he sustained during the 2004 College World Series regional game. The Cubs didn't hesitate to send Fuld to a full-season league despite the missed time in 2004, and he made his pro debut in the Midwest League with the Low-A Peoria Chiefs. Although old for that level (23), Fuld still impressed during his time with the Chiefs. In 125 games, Fuld hit .300/.377/.433 and he established himself as a legitimate prospect in the Cubs' system.
Injuries would cut short a solid sophomore campaign in 2006. Fuld was one of the top performers in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League – hitting .300/.378/.422 before a sports hernia sidelined him for the final month of the season. Fuld also missed time early in the season with a lower back injury. He would appear in only 89 games that year. In 2007, his season was once again impacted by injuries, as he had to stay back in extended spring training with an oblique strain at the start of the year. He would join Double-A Tennessee in late April and was relatively healthy the rest of that season.
Fuld took advantage of being on the field regularly in 2007 and he moved up levels mid-season for the first time in his career. After 90 games with Tennessee, Fuld joined Triple-A Iowa for the final two weeks of the minor league regular season. His .287/.376/.395 line between the two levels was enough for Fuld to earn a September call-up with the Cubs. He made his major-league debut on September 5 that season. The Cubs gave Fuld six at-bats that September. He walked three times and scored three runs but didn't collect a hit. Fuld's season didn't stop at the end of September, however. He won the Arizona Fall League's MVP after posting a 1118 OPS during the prospect showcase. Fuld also took home the Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship award.
The injury bug returned for Fuld in 2008. He jammed his right thumb diving for a ball during spring training and the injury impacted his hitting both during big league camp and during his first six weeks with Triple-A Iowa. He was sent back to Double-A Tennessee after hitting only .222 in 20 games for Iowa. Fuld improved with the Smokies, hitting .271/.366/.381, but it wasn't enough to earn him another look in the big leagues.
Fuld would get another chance with Chicago in 2009, however. He began the year with Iowa and Fuld regained his form at the plate, hitting .284/.358/.415 in 84 games. He joined the Cubs just before the All-Star break and got off to a very fast start. In 12 games in July, Fuld hit .350/.435/.500. That earned him more playing time in August. His OBP remained strong (.375), although his BA (.231) and his SLG (.282) fell off precipitously. Fuld recovered for the stretch run, hitting .342/.432/.500 in 38 September and October at-bats. The Cubs finished second in the NL Central that season and Fuld was a key player for them, hitting .299/.409/.412 in 97 at-bats that season.
Despite how well he played with the Cubs in 2009, Fuld was sent to Triple-A to start the 2010 season. He would spend nearly the entire season with Iowa before being recalled to the big leagues in late August. Fuld remained with the Cubs through the final six weeks of that season, but he netted just 28 at-bats. With Iowa, Fuld hit .272/.383/.394.
That off-season, Fuld was part of an ill-advised trade that the Cubs made with the Tampa Bay Rays. Chicago sent Fuld along with prospects Hak-Ju Lee, Chris Archer, Robinson Chirinos and Brandon Guyer for starter Matt Garza, as well as Fernando Perez and Zac Rosscup. Garza never led the Cubs to the promised land, while Archer and Lee figure to be centerpieces for the Rays moving forward.
Fuld had an impact with Tampa, as well. In 2011, he spent the entire season in the big leagues with the Rays, serving as their fourth outfielder. He got off to a fast start in April, hitting .289 with a 791 OPS in 97 at-bats that month. Fuld faded in May and his playing time diminished as the season wore on.
He still made a solid contribution as a reserve player for Tampa down-the-stretch and finished with a .240/.313/.360 line in 308 at-bats. Fuld stole 20 bases in 28 chances and had a 32:49 BB:K. He helped the Rays earn a dramatic wild card title, as they nudged out the Red Sox on the last day of the season. He had a walk, an RBI and a run scored in that dramatic, extra-inning win. Fuld had three plate appearances for the Rays during their ALDS loss to the Rangers that post-season.
Unfortunately for Fuld, he was unable to build off of his 2011 season because of a spring training wrist injury that cost him more than three months of the season. He had surgery on the wrist in April and didn't return to the big leagues until late July. Once back with Tampa, Fuld played nearly every day. In 44 games, Fuld had 98 at-bats and a .255/.318/.327 line with seven stolen bases.
In 2013, for the second time in his career, Fuld spent an entire season in the big leagues. Playing a reserve role for Tampa, Fuld appeared in 113 games for the Rays. He struggled offensively, however, hitting just .199 with a .290 OBP in 176 at-bats, by far the worst season of his career. The Rays made the post-season, but they were eliminated in the Division Series by the Red Sox. Fuld was granted free agency by the Rays in December and he signed a minor league deal with the A's in January.
When healthy, Fuld has been a solid fourth outfielder type throughout his career. Although not blessed with any plus tools, Fuld has enough speed to play all three outfield positions and be a threat on the base-paths and a good enough eye to be a tough out at the plate. Injuries are always a concern with Fuld, who plays with an all-out style that has him often crashing into walls and diving into the turf. Fuld also has diabetes, although he has been able to manage that well throughout his career.
Fuld's defensive metrics were down in 2013, but he has been widely considered a plus defender throughout his career. He earned the nickname "Superman" in Tampa after he made a few spectacular diving plays. Despite being a left-handed hitter, Fuld has hit slightly better against left-handers during his major league career than he has against righties. He doesn't have much homerun power, having hit six in 713 career MLB at-bats. His career-high for a season in the minors is six.
Fuld turned 32 in November.
Although Fuld doesn't project as a regular in the big leagues, he can be a factor for a major league team as a reserve thanks to his defensive abilities and his ability to work a walk and run the bases well. The A's have two true centerfielders on their 40-man roster – Coco Crisp and Craig Gentry – and several others who can play center in a pinch. However, if either Crisp or Gentry is injured this spring, Fuld would represent the A's best option to play center in their stead based on his major league experience.
Even if Crisp and Gentry are healthy at the end of spring, Fuld still has a chance to make the roster as a fifth outfielder. He will battle fellow Stanford alum Michael Taylor for that spot – should the A's decide to keep a fifth outfielder on the roster. The A's may decide that with Brandon Moss on the roster, they don't need an extra outfielder because he has so much experience playing left field. Infielder Nick Punto can also fill in as a left fielder in a pinch.
Fuld can opt-out of his contract at the end of spring training and again in June, so the A's may lose him if they don't carry him on their Opening Day roster despite the fact that he is a non-roster player. That being said, if Fuld likes the situation with the A's this spring and doesn't see another major league opening at the end of camp, he is likely to stay with the A's even if he is assigned to Triple-A.