Early Draft Preview

Fields Rebuilds Confidence

Former top prospect tries to bounce back




ATHENS, Ga.—Long toss by long toss, workout by workout and bullpen session by bullpen session, Joshua Fields slowly gathered back all his confidence this summer.

Inch by inch, he erased one of those six blown saves from his disappointing 2007 season, and then one of the losses from that 1-6 record, and then another.

And now, finally, heading into a senior season no one expected him to see, Fields is back to being the dominator he was as a sophomore at Georgia, he and his coach say.

"Oh yeah, in a big way," Bulldogs coach David Perno said.

Fields, a 6-foot, 178-pound flamethrower, was a third-team All-American after a sophomore season in which he went 3-2, 1.80 with 15 saves on a team that advanced to the College World Series.

Despite his struggles as a junior, Fields was drafted 69th overall by the Braves and fully expected to be playing professional baseball right now. But he would up returning to college after being disappointed with the way negotiations with his hometown team broke down.

Fields hasn't looked back on his decision to return, he said. In fact, he said, the thought of professional baseball is less of a distraction this year than it was last.

"I think last year I put a little too much pressure on myself trying to do too much," he said.

Perno agreed, adding, "He's been through that draft situation once and he knows that side of it. He knows the only thing that is important is controlling what he can control, and that's going out and throwing strikes and competing."

Changing His Regimen

Fields didn't play in any summer leagues this season because he wanted to work out. (Part of Fields' problem last season was he didn't participate in fall baseball because his arm was tired from a full offseason in the Cape Cod League, Perno said.) The downtime of the summer allowed Fields to get back to the long-tossing training sessions that were so important to him as a developing pitcher.

As his arm strength returned, his confidence came along. That led to bullpen sessions in which he was able to throw strikes down in the zone, a skill that seemed to elude him in games last year.

The final piece of the puzzle is a new pitch he has added—a curveball that will replace what he considered a below-average slider.

"I'm starting to see some consistency in my breaking ball, and that has really helped because before all I really had to go off of was a fastball and a sub-par breaking ball," he said. "Being able to have an offspeed pitch that I can throw for strikes really helps my confidence. If they're starting to time my fastball a little bit I can go to the breaking ball."

Fields relied on his mid-90s fastball more than 90 percent of the time last year, he said.

Relaxing With A Bat

One of the tactics Perno has used to get his star pitcher's mind back right is letting Fields hit for the first time since his freshman season. The former high school slugger will serve as the Bulldogs' DH in some games and has worked all fall to get his swing back.

"I feel like it relaxes me a little bit," Fields said. "It gives me a chance to get away from (pitching) a little bit, have some fun at the plate, taking BP and joking with the guys instead of being all business all the time."

Fields, who hit .500 as a senior in high school, is a good enough athlete that he won't be harmed by working in both areas, Perno said.

"I just wanted to give him the opportunity," Perno said. "He's probably never going to have it again. He's going to be doing one thing when he leaves here, and he's got a chance to do something he has a great time doing. I think making him hit a little bit has got him back to realizing that this is the game of baseball and how you play it on both ends and not so just completely locked in on just closing. It has opened his mind up."

Fields' ERA ballooned to 4.46 last year. By the midpoint of the season, his pitching form had returned but his confidence had not, Perno said.

The Bulldogs play one of the nation's toughest schedules this year, starting with a season-opening three-game series against No. 2 Arizona followed by a trip to No. 7 Oregon State, so Fields' new attitude will be tested early and often. He hopes, he said, that opponents haven't forgotten the player he was two years ago.

"They only have to see him throw one pitch," Perno said, "and I think that fear will creep right back in their head if it has left them a little bit."

Josh Kendall covers the Bulldogs for the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph.