Fields was the Tigers sixth round pick in 2009 as a local Michigan product with a wealth of tools. He held a strong commitment to the University of Michigan but was pried away from that commitment with a seven-figure signing bonus from the Tigers.
After signing too late to make his professional debut in 2009, the Tigers kept Fields back in extended spring training to start 2010. When injuries struck at High-A Lakeland, Fields was promoted to fill the void. Though his promotion was intended to be temporary, the then 19-year old Fields held his own and ended up playing 109 games for the Flying Tigers that summer. In the end, he hit .240/.343/.371, showing a solid approach at the plate despite being three to four years younger than his league counterparts.
The Tigers sent Fields back to the Florida State League in 2011, hoping he could build on a solid 2010 season. Instead, Fields' numbers regressed across the board in his 124 games for Lakeland last year. He finished with a .220/.308/.326 line while also showing some signs of defensive struggles.
Fields' scouting report has changed radically over the last two years. Considered a player with outstanding tools coming out of high school, scouts views on his overall potential have dropped significantly.
Fields is still a solid athlete though few turn him in as the premium athlete he was billed as during his amateur career.
He will flash plus times from home-to-first but those were less frequent last year. Fields now rates as an average or solid-average runner that lacks base stealing instincts and isn't a real threat on the bases.
At the plate, Fields has a ton of miss in his game. He will swing through fastballs and struggles to adjust to even decent breaking balls. He gets out in front of change-ups regularly. When he does connect, he has good strength and above-average bat speed, giving him the ability to drive the ball, particularly to the pull side. His power won't mean much unless his contact rates improve. While he demonstrates a willingness to work counts, his knowledge of the strike zone seemed to regress in 2011, as he more frequently chased pitches out of the zone.
Fields was moved off shortstop early in his career and originally profiled as a plus defender in center field. Despite being thrust into an advanced league for his age in 2010, Fields defensive skills were an asset on a daily basis. During that season he showed good instincts and took to the position quickly.
In 2011 Fields' defense was called into question by scouts that saw him getting poor reads off the bat and taking circuitous routes to the ball. In addition, while he showed a plus arm at shortstop as an amateur, he has not adapted to the throwing mechanics required for the outfield and now earns well-below average grades for his arm strength.
Fields' two seasons in pro ball have provided two drastically different scouting reports and concepts of him as a player. His real projection probably lies somewhere between his 2010 and 2011 descriptions and that may leave him as a bit of a tweener.
Depending on your belief in his athleticism and defensive abilities, Fields could profile as a solid regular in center field or potentially a fourth outfielder. The development of his tools in 2012 will be critical in evaluating his future potential.
Performance Level Team AB AVG 2B HR RBI SO BB OBP% SLG% A+
Fields has been healthy for most of his professional career. He suffered a couple of minor injuries last year, including a sprained ankle, but nothing that should be a problem going forward.
Where Fields lands to start the 2012 season is going to be one of the most fascinating aspects of this year's initial roster assignments. The Tigers must weigh the value of giving him a "sink or swim" assignment to Double-A Erie, or allowing him to spend part of a third season in High-A. Both assignments have their positives and negatives.
Regardless of where he starts, the 2012 season is a bit of a make or break year for Fields. He must begin to show some progress with his hitting ability and the translation of his average power potential, while also showing that his defensive downturn last year was a fluke.
Fields is still an intriguing prospect simply because he does offer several Major League caliber tools, but at some point he has to produce, and scouts will be looking for that this year.
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