Sunday, December 26, 2010

Josh Fields

Josh Fields, who just turned 28 less than two weeks ago, was a two-sport athlete at Oklahoma State University, playing both baseball and football.

He earned three letters as the Cowboy's QB, and the Ada, Oklahoma native was pretty good behind center. Fields owns the school mark for most TD passes with 55, went to two bowl games, and even set the Cotton Bowl record with 307 yards passing.

More importantly to this tale, though, is that he was a Big 12 All-Star at third base in 2003 and compiled a career BA of .364. Fields showed enough potential with the stick that he was the first round pick (18th overall) of the 2004 draft, taken by the Chicago White Sox.

Aggressively placed with High A Winston-Salem that year, he put up a line of .285/7/39 in 66 games. Entering the 2005 season, Fields was ranked as the fourth-best prospect in the White Sox organization and the #95 pro prospect by Baseball America.

Now with AA Birmingham, he hit safely in 14 straight games and had a line of .252/16/79. It was good enough to keep his spot in the Sox minor league hierarchy although he did drop out of BA's Top 100 Prospects. But Fields would rectify that in a hurry.

Now one step away from the bigs at AAA Charlotte, he hit .305/19/70 and homered in four consecutive games in May. The ol' QB played in the All-Star Futures Game at PNC Park, and got a September call-up from Chicago.

Fields made his MLB debut at the plate on September 18th and drilled a pinch-hit home run off Detroit's Jamie Walker. He became the third player in White Sox history to hit a home run in his first major league at-bat, joining Carlos Lee and Miguel Olivo.

The only real area of concern in his rapid rise through the minors was his whiffs; he struck out 352 times in 1,195 at-bats, a 29% rate. Even with that, Fields started 2007 season ranked as the number two farmhand of the White Sox and BA's #45 prospect.

He started the 2007 season with the Charlotte Knights, but was called up to the White Sox in June after a season-ending injury to Joe Crede. Fields got into 100 games and hit .244/23/67 in 373 at-bats. It got him a vote (3rd place) for ROY, but among the signs of promise were two worrisome Sabermetric snags - he struck out at a 34% rate, and had an OBP of just .308. Still, it was a nice rookie year for a corner player.

After that showing, it was thought that Fields would keep the third base job in 2008 and develop while in the majors. But the White Sox couldn't find a taker for Crede after he recovered, and he kept the hot corner job while Fields returned to AAA.

Fields struggled some with injuries in the minors, and in 75 games had a line of just .246/10/35. In late July, he was called up after Crede paid a visit to the 15-day DL, and did very little with the stick. His achy knee was scoped after his injury-plagued 2008 season.

In 2009, Crede signed with the Twins as a free agent and Fields opened season as starter at third. But his bat didn't come through - he hit .222/7/30 with a 32% strikeout rate - and he lost his job to Gordon Beckham in June. At the trade deadline, Fields was demoted to Charlotte to clear space for Mark Kotsay. There was some speculation that his knee wasn't 100%, and may have been a factor in his dismal season.

In 2010, Fields was traded to the KC Royals with Chris Getz for Mark Teahen. It was a good situation for him to get back into the swing of things; Alex Gordon and Alberto Callaspo were both hurt, leaving him an open road to the hot corner.

But he couldn't stay healthy, either. Fields missed nearly the entire season due to hip surgery. The snake-bitten third baseman had arthroscopic surgery to repair his labrum, the same procedure performed on Gordon and A-Rod the year before.

Fields made a brief appearance in September, and hit three homers in 49 at-bats, perhaps a omen that he was finally healthy and pain free. But KC didn't care to find out.

Mike Moustakas, their third baseman of the future, is on schedule to reach the show in 2011 or 2012, and the Royals non-tendered Fields rather than face arbitration, even though his base pay in 2010 was the league minimum.

The Pirates signed Fields to a split minor league deal for 2011 worth $750K if he makes the club and $350K if he doesn't, and invited him to spring training.

They got a guy that's had 796 at-bats in the bigs with a ho-hum line of .234/.303/.421. He strikes out 33% of the time. His BA isn't likely to improve dramatically; his batted ball average is .289, a bit low but close to the norm. His trouble is putting enough balls in play with that huge whiff rate.

Although he's played three positions - 3B primarily, with some 1B and OF - there's not one that he's earned a positive UZR rating for, not too surprising considering Fields is 6'1", 240 pounds and had gimpy wheels throughout his career.

But his ISO (Isolated Power rating) is an excellent .189 (it's about .145-.150 for corner players), and he homers on 18% of his fly balls, with the league average at about 11%. So Fields is a guy that can lose a baseball or two, something the Pirates sorely lack, especially from the right side.

The Pirates also have a great opportunity to max his strengths. His splits are tilted one-way against LHP, which he rakes (.293/.357/.600), so if Clint Hurdle can pick Fields' spots as a platoon or pinch-hit player, he could have a diamond in the rough.

And he may actually be at 100% physically for the first time since 2007.

The Pirates have invited Fields to camp where he'll fight it out with Steve Pearce and Andy Marte for a corner backup gig. It'll be interesting. All three have much better splits against lefties, a very good thing since the guys ahead of them, Lyle Overbay and Pedro, are lefties. All have different skill sets as fielders both in ability and positions, and that may play into the roster decision, too.

Again, it's another low risk/high reward scenario for the FO. If the stars line up right for Fields, not only do the Pirates have some right-handed thunder but a player under team control for awhile. Fields has three arb years remaining, and won't reach free agency until 2015.

So hey, let the cattle calls continue. There's got to be another Garrett Jones out there someplace.

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