Fields quickly proves he made right choice
See also: Previous Triple-A Report
DURHAM, N.C.--Josh Fields still gets questions about football, even though he gave up his gridiron aspirations when the White Sox made him the 18th overall pick in the 2004 draft.
“People always ask which sport I like more, baseball or football. Or ask what I miss about football,” Fields said. “I think it’s really obvious what my choice was. It really wasn’t a hard question for me . . . though sometimes if I’ve gone 0-for-4, I like to toy with them and tell them I picked the wrong sport.”
A two-sport standout at Oklahoma State, Fields was an All-American in baseball and threw for a school-record 55 career touchdown passes as a quarterback, so the White Sox assumed concentrating on just baseball would only aid his development.
That development was coming along nicely, as Fields had moved quickly through the farm system and was hitting .318/.400/.556 with 11 home runs for Charlotte this season, despite being challenged by the White Sox every step of the way.
Fields, 23, made it to Triple-A less than two years after signing and has never played a game below the high Class A level. Not bad for a guy who only recently became a full-time baseball player. His selection to the Futures Game highlights how far he’s come.
“I know I’ve made the most improvement on defense,” Fields said. “Before, you’d hear about the White Sox saying I needed to improve at third base. But I feel like they’re pleased now because I know I feel two times better and more comfortable out there.”
Charlotte manager Razor Shines said Fields’ defensive improvements are apparent, and he should know because he was also Fields’ manager at Double-A Birmingham last season.
“His defense at third base is twice as good this year. He’s made plays this year that, frankly, he couldn’t have made last year,” Shines said. “When I first saw him I thought, ‘This guy’s going to be a first baseman down the line at the major league level,’ but he’s made such improvement in one year.
“And he’s been easily one of the best hitters in this league.”Leaderboard Watching
Fields fondly recalls a road trip to Louisville in May when he went 8-for-17 with four home runs, a double, six RBIs and six runs in a four-game series. His outburst against the Bats encapsulates what he’s done to International League pitching all season, putting his name all over the IL leaderboard. He ranked fourth in batting, second in extra-base hits (33), fifth in doubles (20), third in runs (43), third in on-base percentage and second in slugging.
It’s not that Fields was disappointing before this season. Far from it. He hit .252/.341/.408 at Double-A last season with 18 home runs. He struck out 142 times, or in about 25 percent of his plate appearances. Fields was fanning at a similar rate this season (27 percent), but compensates with above-average walk and extra-base hit rates.
“It’s all a big game--each at-bat--and normally a pitcher won’t change his approach during the game,” he said, “unless I make a big adjustment to him. All the guys at this level are smart, good pitchers, and if what they’ve tried doesn’t work, they come back with another approach.”
To enhance his focus and improve the consistency of his at-bats, Fields has implemented breathing techniques in his pregame preparation.
“Before the game, I just try to relax,” he said. “I’ve found little focus things to help me get prepared from the first inning on, and that’s been key. Lots of time in the past, I would find myself giving away at-bats. It’s all about being focused from the first inning on.”
An often overlooked aspect of Fields’ game has been his work on the bases. With 13 steals (in 17 tries) and two triples, he’s shown flashes of all five tools.
“Running more is something this year that’s been helpful, just adding something new to your game,” he said “You don’t have too many two, three or four hitters who can run. Being a power guy, and being able to run as well, it becomes harder for the other team to defend. And it can help you get something going if you’re struggling.”
He credits Charlotte first baseman Casey Rogowski for providing the impetus to run more. “Seeing a big guy like Rogo among the leaders in steals has inspired me to add speed to my game,” he said.Mark Of A Professional
Back in spring training, Fields met Joe Borchard, another former college quarterback who was once one of the White Sox’ brightest prospects. Among other things, the two talked about the challenges of being successful in baseball.
“You know, baseball is such a different mentality than football, and both of us being former football players, we have to work to adopt a baseball mindset,” Fields sasd. “In baseball, you have to be patient. Sometimes you have to ease up. Where in football, sometimes the best thing is to get back out there and go at it.”
Shines has noticed a change in Fields’ mental approach and credits him with carrying Charlotte to its fast start. The Knights had the best record in the minors at 48-23 (.676) and had opened a 13-game lead in the IL’s Southern Division.
“What impresses me most about Josh Fields is he’s grown up,” Shines said. “Last year lots of things affected him. If he didn’t get the big hit or if he made an error, it bothered him. He handles himself better, more professionally this year.”
Fields is quick to deflect the attention. “I set more team goals this year, and not too many personal goals,” he said. “To an extent you have to be selfish in this game to get promoted, but I’ve found the less time you spend looking at your stats, the better you’ll play.”
Because the White Sox have Joe Crede entrenched at third base, and because they’re expected to make every effort to hold onto him, Fields, too, has heard the rumors that a position switch may be in store.
“As far as the White Sox coming to me about switching positions, they haven’t,” he said. “The only time I’ve played outfield is when I play around in BP.”
No matter where he ends up in the field, though, chances are good Fields will be taking BP at U.S. Cellular Field before the season is out.
• Fields is among those who have been impressed by Pirates lefthander Tom Gorzelanny this season, and Fields said he was the toughest pitcher in the league: “Every time you see him on the mound, you kind of go . . . ahh, not him again,” In the knuckleball division, Fields cited Pawtucket’s Charlie Zink and Charlotte’s own Charlie Haeger, whom he faced in spring training and in batting practice, as the toughest to hit.
A National League scout who saw Gorzelanny, 23, this season projects him as No. 3 starter in the big leagues. “Gorzelanny is major league ready, but not ready to go up there and deal,” the scout said. “He has plus command and life to his pitches. He is also sneaky and deceptive, and I love his feel for pitching and his savvy. He uses both sides of the plate and is aggressive on the inside corner to righthanded batters.”
• You might have guessed coming into the season that the strength of the 2006 Durham Bulls would be offense, what with outfielders Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes and shortstop B.J. Upton in the heart of the order. But you’d be just part right. The Bulls were fourth in the 14-team IL in runs, which they had accomplished despite Young’s 50-game suspension and Dukes twice being sent home by the Devil Rays.
Still, few minor league teams could boast the same level of talent. Charlotte manager Razor Shines said of the trio: “I haven’t seen every team yet, but those three have as many tools as any player in this league. Between the three of them, that’s 15 tools right there.”
• White Sox righthander Sean Tracey had a rough orientation to the major leagues when his failure to plunk Rangers third baseman Hank Blalock resulted in a very public chewing-out by manager Ozzie Guillen.
Tracey, 25, had a lot to prove after his demotion to Charlotte, but he struggled in his first game, a relief appearance, allowing two runs and recording just two outs. Five days later, Tracey got his first start and was masterful. He tossed a 109-pitch shutout, facing just four batters over the minimum, allowing six hits and striking out eight
About his tenure in Chicago, Tracey told the Chicago Tribune: “I flat out made a mistake and it will never happen again.”PACIFIC PORTS
• Outfielder Jeff Baker was hitting .324/.390/.454 through his firs 238 at-bats, a total that had already surpassed his total for Colorado Springs last season. Injuries to his left wrist and thumb have plagued Baker in the minors, and the Rockies have switched him to right field because of an organizational logjam at third base (Garrett Atkins, Ian Stewart), Baker’s former position.
With continued good health this season, he’ll likely get a chance to help the Rockies, who have hung around in the NL West race on the strength of a roster built mostly from within. Rookies like outfielder Ryan Spilborghs and shortstop Omar Quintanilla, who had a brutal April with Colorado Springs and hit .233 with just three extra-base hits, were making cases for more playing time.
• Brewers shortstop Chris Barnwell, 27, made his major league debut with a 0-for-2 effort against the Tigers but got his first hit the next night. Barnwell, a 25th-round pick in 2001, was batting .326/.392/.443 for Nashville at the time of his promotion, which was necessitated by the absence of shortstop J.J. Hardy, who was recovering from a severely sprained ankle. Contributing: Chris Kline.
Compiled by Matt Eddy