Daniel Fields has heard the comments before.
The Tigers hampered his development. Their tendency to aggressively assign prospects finally went too far.
Sure, he’s the son of hitting coach and former major leaguer Bruce Fields, but he was still just a raw 19-year-old athlete from up north, and having him begin his pro career in high-A Lakeland was crazy.
They ruined him.
Fields disagrees, and as the 24-year-old outfielder prepares to make his MLB debut, he hopes to prove the doubters wrong.
“I think it was an advantage for me,” he said. “I was able to see better pitching straight out of the gate when I was 19. I don’t think it hurt at all.”
That first-year assignment to Lakeland was aggressive by anyone’s standards, but Fields held his own. He hit just .240, but walked enough to post a .343 on-base percentage, and he managed to slug 27 extra-base hits in the Florida State League, one of the most difficult offensive environments in all of baseball.
The trouble began the next year, when he returned to Lakeland and regressed, necessitating a third assignment to high-A in 2012. He appeared to break out a bit in Double-A Erie in 2013, and the Tigers added him to their 40-man roster, but a cold start and a broken hand led to poor numbers in Toledo in 2014, and the critics grew loud once again.
He’s a bust. The Tigers ruined him.
“All the struggles I had, those were on me.” Fields said. “So I don’t put that on the Tigers at all.”
Assigned to the Mud Hens again 2015, Fields spent the offseason working with his father in hopes of making the majors this year.
“Every day during the week we were hitting and looking at video,” he said. “He definitely helped me a lot.”
The results have been promising. Fields posted a terrific .344/.462/.625 line in April, and while he struggled a bit in May, he still remains among the International League leaders in doubles, walks, and stolen bases, and he leads the circuit in runs scored and triples.
“I’m seeing the ball better,” he said. “I’m in a little bit of a different stance, getting my foot down early, so it’s helping me see the ball a lot better. Just stuff I worked on in the offseason. It’s been helping me so far.”
Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish has also been pleased with Fields’ progress.
“Daniel is off to a good start offensively,” Parrish said. “He’s been hitting the fastball very well, staying through the ball, not rolling over the ball near as much as he did last year. He’s showing improvement his second year here...he’s a big, strong kid and he actually could add power as he goes along.”
And while Fields wouldn’t mind adding a few more homers, he’s not going to alter his approach to add more over-the-fence power.
“There’s definitely always room to improve,” Fields said. “Just not trying to do too much and just stick with what I’m doing. I’m fine with the triples...I’ll keep taking those.”
The Tigers made Fields a priority in the 2009 draft, selecting him in the 6th round out of University of Detroit Jesuit High School, and giving him a $1.6 million bonus (the 20th highest in the entire draft) to sign him away from the University of Michigan. And while he committed to the Wolverines, he wasn’t necessarily their biggest supporter.
“I’ve always been a Michigan State fan,” he said. “My mom went there, and my dad grew up in Lansing. At the time Michigan’s baseball program was a lot better than Michigan State’s...I was just going there for baseball.”
And now, as he gets set to become the first native Detroiter to make his MLB debut with the Tigers since Dave Borkowski in 1999, Fields can reflect a bit on his choice to eschew college and endure his minor-league struggles.
“It all worked out,” he said. “I made the best decision for me.”