Fields, a Detroit native, is the son of former major league hitting coach Bruce Fields. In 2009, the Tigers used a sixth-round pick on the high school shortstop who had already committed to playing college ball at the University of Michigan. Despite his father’s connection to the organization, Daniel was no easy sign and it eventually took a near $1.6 million bonus to get his name on a professional contract; significantly over-slot for a sixth-round pick.
When he began his career in 2010, the Tigers placed him aggressively at High-A Lakeland and immediately converted him to center field. Despite being just 19 years old in the Florida State League, Fields held his own, posting a solid .714 OPS fueled by a .343 OBP. His strikeout rate was very high, but he was also walking in nearly 13 percent of his trips to the plate. The signs of success were there.
Given his age, the Tigers were right to have him repeat High-A in 2011, but Fields did not progress as hoped. Despite getting nearly 60 more plate appearances than the season before, Fields had fewer RBI, fewer walks, and fewer extra-base hits, but considerably more strikeouts. His OPS sank to .635. He would begin the 2012 campaign with yet another High-A assignment and that went equally poorly in terms of overall production, but the lefty-swinging outfielder did show marked improvement in the ability to make contact.
Evidently, that was good enough for the Tigers, who promoted Fields to Erie part-way through last year. The results he had with the Sea Wolves were encouraging in that he posted a walk rate above 10 percent for the first time since 2010 and held his strikeouts down as well. Meanwhile, Fields became much more aggressive in running the bases and for the first time, began to steal base with a decent success rate.
So far this season, Fields has maintained a very good walk rate (12.1%) that has allowed him to reach base at a .354 clip for Erie. Though his strikeout rate has floated back up a bit at 23 percent, that’s a number still below his career mark and one the Tigers can probably live with as long as he’s drawing his share of walks to go with it.
The most encouraging sign of improvement for Fields at the plate, however, has been his ability to drive the ball; a skill he hadn’t shown often in his three seasons as a professional.
Fields is not a small man at 6’1″ and 215 lbs, but his pop at the plate has been slower to develop than was expected. Prior to this season, his career-best slugging percentage was a mere .371 posted for Lakeland in 2010. While neither the FSL nor the Eastern League are kind to hitters, Fields has finally begun to find the gaps and even clear the fences with more frequency. So far, through 21 games and 99 plate appearances for Erie, Fields has collected 22 base hits and nine of them have gone for extra bags. He has three home runs on the young season, the same total he amassed in 91 games across two levels a season ago.
In the last 10 games, Fields has posted a .300/.404/.500 line. He is currently slugging .447 on the season
Two things that impress me so far about Fields in 2013: He’s doing this while still being young for his league. Nearly 93 percent of his plate appearances have come against pitchers older than he is. Secondly, Fields is more than holding his own versus left-handed pitching, posting a .333/.433/.542 line against southpaws.
When Fields was drafted, he was a guy being talked about as having all the tools. When the results didn’t match the hype early on, Fields quickly fell off many of the organizational top-10 lists and for a system as thin as Detroit’s has been, that wasn’t an encouraging sign. He’s still just 22, so there is a chance to grow into a guy who makes better contact and he’s already shown some improvement there. His approach at the plate is sound in terms of showing patience and he’s finally a guy who is barreling the baseball more consistently.
It may have taken him a while to get going, but there is certainly reason for optimism as his career progresses and it’s the first time in a couple of years that we can say that about young Daniel Fields. If nothing else, when people talk about talent in the Tigers organization, Fields’ strong start is getting his name back into the discussion.