Fuld Flying High

Since July 1 of last year, former Stanford standout and current Class-A Daytona outfielder Sam Fuld is batting .338. The always outgoing and complacent Fuld recently talked to Inside The Ivy about his early success as a professional and his reputation for being one of the best on-base guys in the farm system.

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 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.

Starting pitcher Luke Hagerty walked five in 1 2/3 innings.

A first-round draft pick in 2002, Hagerty has struggled with control since the beginning of last season, when he suffered an injury to a finger on his pitching hand while in spring camp with the Florida Marlins. He walked 30 and struck out only four in 14 games at Low-A Boise in 2005. He surrendered four runs on three hits as the losing pitcher in Saturday's affair.

Hagerty has not won a game in the Cubs farm system since August 28, 2002 -- his professional debut season.

Daytona is 0-3 and have been outscored 23-8 in their opening series while surrendering 39 hits.

"I've enjoyed working with our manager, Don Buford, and our hitting coach, Richie Zisk," Fuld added. "A lot of the guys I'm with played with me in Peoria last year, so there's definitely a sense of comfort there."

ELSEWHERE ON THE FARM … In Des Moines, Raul Valdez threw five shutout innings in arguably his finest Triple-A start to date since defecting from the Dominican Summer League post-2004. The 28-year-old left-hander stranded five on base in Iowa's 4-1 win over Albuquerque on Saturday while walking only one after averaging 3.6 free passes per nine innings with Iowa last year.

Valdez, who speaks little to no English, wowed the Cubs by striking out 152 in only 87 2/3 innings and posting a 0.51 ERA in the DSL in 2004. But he struggled in his first year in the States last season with an ERA of almost six and a .333 average against in 25 Triple-A appearances.

RHP Roberto Novoa pitched two innings for the save and will rotate closing duties with RHP David Aardsma for the time being.

With the bat, OF Felix Pie had three hits and scored two runs atop the lineup and is off to a 5-for-12 start in his first Triple-A season. Pie nabbed his first extra base hit of the year with a ground-rule double in the seventh inning and also drove in two runs.

Catcher Geovany Soto rounded up three hits as well, including a pair of doubles. He has started all three of the team's games behind the plate to this point.

In Birmingham, West Tenn pitchers combined to give up three hits for the second straight night, but lost 1-0 in Double-A action. Right-hander Randy Wells started and went six innings, allowing the game's only run on a second inning home run. He gave up three hits.

RHP Lincoln Holdzkom, acquired in the Todd Wellemeyer trade with Florida this spring, made his Cubs minor league debut and faced only two batters, notching a strikeout. Left-hander Carmen Pignatiello, back at Double-A for the third straight year after spending a good amount of time at Iowa last season, retired all five batters he faced in his 2006 debut. He struck out two and recorded three groundouts.

OF Luis Montanez continued his hot start with two hits following a three-hit night on Friday and is six for his first 12 (all singles). Starting as the Jaxx DH, Scott Moore also tallied two hits for his second multi-hit night in three games this season. INF Richard Lewis made his first start in the field and singled to extend his hit streak to five games dating back to last year.

First baseman Brian Dopirak is walking around in a soft boot following an ankle injury suffered in the Jaxx season opener. Dopirak doesn't know how long he will be sidelined, but will meet with team doctors in Chicago soon to determine the extent of the injury and proper course of action.

In Wisconsin, Peoria fell, 6-3, after a rough opening by 2005 third-round draft pick Michael Billek. The right-hander gave up a career-high five earned runs on seven hits in four innings while taking one on the chin. He fanned six and walked one.

First baseman Ryan Norwood, who missed all of last season with an ankle injury, has rebounded strong in the Chiefs' opening series. He scored three hits on Saturday and has hit safely in his first three games, going 7-for-15.

"MINOR NEWS" … OF Ryan Harvey has missed the first three games of the season at Daytona, sidelined by what Cubs Director of Player Development Oneri Fleita termed "tightness in his quadriceps." The injury is not thought to be serious and the Cubs are just being cautious at the moment, said Fleita.

E-mail Steve Holley: staff@insidetheivy.com.

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