Acquired: 2009 MLB Draft, 6th Round
Ranking History: #12 (2009), #5 (2010), #16 (2011)
A sixth round pick in 2009, Fields received $1.625 million to forgo a commitment to Michigan and start his professional career. After signing late, Fields did not make his official professional debut until 2010.
The Tigers started slowly with Fields, holding him back in extended spring training as he adjusted to the pro game. When injuries struck the High-A Lakeland roster, the Tigers shuffled Fields across the parking lot in what was supposed to be a temporary move. When he held his own against much older competition, the Tigers left him there and he posted a .240/.343/.371 line in 109 games as a 19-year old.
Fields repeated High-A in 2011, struggling to a .220 batting average with less power and he even struggled on defense. Sent back to High-A one more time at the start of the 2012 season, he was hitting .266 at the time of his promotion to Double-A Erie around mid-season.
In 29 games at Double-A, Fields hit .264/.352/.358 with two home runs and nine stolen bases. In addition to his offensive performance, Fields flashed his high-end defense in center field again, earning praise from scouts for his glove work.
Fields' career has resembled a roller coaster as his prospect stock has risen, slipped and no stagnated. Considered a very good athlete coming out of high school, he thickened up during his first two professional seasons, losing explosiveness. He trimmed back down in 2012 and looked the part of a plus athlete with the potential to stay up the middle.
Fields has a solid approach at the plate, showing a decent knowledge of the strike zone and a willingness to work pitchers into counts that favor the hitter. His patience leads to some walks but not improved contact.
Sitting with a long-time scout this summer, he dubbed Fields a "bottom-hand hitter." Fields lacks the ability to get the barrel of the bat to the hitting zone with any consistency and his load is often slow. These problems negate his above-average bat speed and open serious questions about his long term hitting ability. Without a major overhaul of his swing mechanics or a realization of what pitches he should be pulling and what pitches he should be serving the other way, it is unlikely Fields will ever hit better than .250 at the big-league level.
As a result of his swing issues and his seeming inability to identify which pitches he can turn on, Fields above-average raw power plays down in games and he becomes more of a gap-to-gap hitter. He still shows occasional over-the-fence power and I have watched him drive balls with authority, but those instances are rare.
Defensively, Fields has gotten back on track in center field. He regressed in 2011 but showed improved instincts, good jumps and proper routes on balls to both sides in 2012. He has average to solid-average speed and his instincts allow that speed to play in center field. Fields arm is a below-average tool that can be taken advantage of by aggressive base runners.
Few scouts hold out much hope for Fields' future as an everyday player. His solid defense that should transition to both corners and his proclivity for working counts may earn him a job as a bench outfielder in the big leagues. A dreamer could hold out hope that his hitting ability develops enough to hit .260 with 15-18 home runs and quality defense, but that is a pretty big leap at this point.
Performance Level Team AB AVG 2B HR RBI SO BB OBP% SLG% A+
Fields has had a few minor, nagging injuries throughout his career but overall, he has been pretty durable. His improved conditioning in 2012 was a positive sign for the long term maintenance of his athleticism and ability to fight off injury.
With the utility of his hit tool in serious question, it is difficult to project Fields as a regular contributor in the big leagues. Even so, he has the defense, base running acumen and ability to put together quality at-bats to succeed in a bench role. It is difficult to give up on the raw tools and a full season at the Double-A level in 2013 will be a significant test for him.
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