|Fields hitting what will become a home run (Icon/SMI)|
Josh Fields was recently named the new White Sox starting third baseman by manager Ozzie Guillen, who said it was his job to lose. With third base becoming one of the trickier positions to draft, having a backup sleeper you feel comfortable drafting is important if your first choice gets taken. Let’s see how comfortable we can be with Fields as a late-round option in 2009.
+--------+-------+-----+-----+----+----+-----+----+-------+-----+ | Season | Level | Age | PA | R | HR | RBI | SB | AVG | K | +--------+-------+-----+-----+----+----+-----+----+-------+-----+ | 2005 | AA | 22 | 560 | 76 | 16 | 79 | 7 | 0.252 | 142 | | 2006 | AAA | 23 | 526 | 85 | 19 | 70 | 28 | 0.305 | 136 | | 2007 | AAA | 24 | 249 | 28 | 10 | 37 | 8 | 0.283 | 60 | | 2007 | MLB | 24 | 418 | 54 | 23 | 67 | 1 | 0.244 | 125 | | 2008 | AAA | 25 | 318 | 41 | 10 | 35 | 8 | 0.246 | 98 | +--------+-------+-----+-----+----+----+-----+----+-------+-----+
Fields was the 18th overall pick in the 2004 draft by the White Sox. Selected out of Oklahoma State University, Fields was a two-sport athlete earning honors in both baseball and football. Ultimately he chose to accept the White Sox $1.5 million offer to play baseball.
In 2005, he started the season in Double-A and had an average year, batting .252 with 16 home runs and 142 strikeouts in 560 plate appearances. Nevertheless, in 2006 the White Sox moved Fields up to Triple-A ,where he flourished. Posting a .305 batting average with 19 home runs, he appeared to complement his healthy power game with the ability to hit for average. However, Fields still displayed contact issues—striking out in 29 percent of his plate appearances—and was aided by an inflated .397 BABIP.
Still, the now-25-year-old Fields was firmly entrenched behind major league starting third baseman Joe Crede, who was coming off a career year in which he batted .283 with 30 home runs. Then, in early June, it was announced Crede would be out for the year with a back injury, and the opportunity presented itself to Fields. For a rookie, Fields played admirably, batting .244 with 23 home runs. Alarmingly, though, he struck out in 34 percent of his at-bats—the fourth highest mark in the majors—but also hit home runs at the ninth best rate in the majors in terms of home runs per fly ball.
Going into 2008, people did not know what to make of the White Sox third base situation. In fantasy leagues, Fields was drafted almost universally, on average at 190 overall, while Crede, in the six percent of leagues he was selected, was taken not much further down at 204th overall. Both ended up being bad picks: Crede missed more time because of his recurring back injury and was generally ineffective when playing, and Fields played poorly in Triple-A and was bothered by nagging injuries.
Now Crede has left the White Sox via free agency, leaving Fields the frontrunner for the starting gig. His competition: Wilson Betemit, acquired in the Nick Swisher deal, and 19-year-old Cuban defector Dayan Viciedo, who signed a four-year, $10 million contract this offseason.
Signing Viciedo surely shows a lack of confidence in Fields on the part of the White Sox front office, but Fields still will get his fair chance to prove himself in the majors this year. I would not worry about Betemit stealing the job from Fields this year either. as long as Fields plays decently and stays healthy.
Now we are back to the original question of whether you can feel comfortable with Fields as either your starting third basemen or back-up. Let’s see what we can expect from him in 2009, and where we can expect to take him.
Despite his relative lack of major league experience, Fields is almost guaranteed to hit between .250 and .260, and blast somewhere around 15 to 25 home runs given enough playing time. Tack on five to ten steals, and you’ve got a capable starting third baseman, or a more than adequate back-up.
The best part about Fields—get ready for it—is that you probably will be able to wait for the last round to take him. When people are filling out their rosters with third basemen at the end of the draft, players like Kevin Kouzmanoff, Melvin Mora, Hank Blalock and even Eric Chavez and Dallas McPherson sometimes get taken before him. If you select Kouzmanoff or Blalock, I could not argue with you, but Fields would be my selection late in the draft.
In shallower leagues, Fields should not be your starting third baseman, but in deep or AL-only leagues he makes for a cheap, serviceable option at third. I am not expecting any sort of renaissance from Fields; he is simply a better late-round option than some other third basemen.
You will notice that the Yahoo! article linked to at the beginning of this article says “Fields has been astute in his offseason training….” Just a caveat: Never let bits of information about a player’s offseason like that influence you. They are right about 50 percent of the time.