Thinking About Daniel Fields, One Day Into His Career

Matt WallaceContributor IAugust 19, 2009

Tigers fans are well aware the Tigers convinced Michigan prep shortstop, Daniel Fields, to put pen to paper and devote his life to becoming a Tiger in return for a $1.6 million signing bonus and all the perks of being a professional baseball player. Almost immediately, the question was posed to me, "Where do you think he'll be assigned next season?" This sounded like a prime subject for a post and since I doubt even the Tigers know the answer to this question at this early stage, my first instinct was to turn to history. 

What is the precedent the Tigers have set for prep infielders taken in past drafts? I was shocked to find how little of a precedent exists. The Tigers' current scouting director, and the man most commonly given credit/fault for the Tigers' drafts is David Chadd, who was hired in November of 2004. If you count 2005 as his first draft, do you know how many prep infielders have been taken and signed under his watch? I counted three. 

They took Brett Anderson as a shortstop in the 12th round of the 2008 draft. In 2006, you had Hayden Parrott taken as a second baseman in the 11th round and Joe Bowen as a catcher in the 12th. These are not very instructive comparisons. Brett Anderson isn't a shortstop and hasn't hit in two seasons in the Gulf Coast League. Hayden Parrott didn't have the defensive chops to play the infield and has already been released from the organization and Joe Bowen is a catcher, which is pretty much a completely separate animal from other infielders. 

Maybe you think I'm being lazy using the hiring of Chadd as an excuse to only go back as far as 2005. Maybe Dombrowski is the driving force behind the Tigers' unwillingness to draft - much less sign - prep infiedlers. Well first of all, I'd say, "Who you callin' lazy?" Secondly, I'd say don't expect to get much from going back the three extra years Dombrowski has been in the organization. Going back to 2002 gains you only six more prep infield signees and three of those six are catchers who, again, probably aren't very instructive for how a shortstop would be handled. 

That leaves just three more infield prospects to look at and they are Cory Middleton, drafted as a shortstop in the 10th round in 2004, Lionel Roberts, a first baseman taken in the 15th round of that same draft, and Scott Moore, a shortstop and the Tigers' first round pick of the 2002 draft. Moore is probably the closest thing we have to a measuring stick for Fields and to get to him you have to go back seven years to a draft that took place just two months after Dombrowski had fired Randy Smith. These other players mentioned were all taken in the tenth round or later and it's pretty obvious they weren't super talented players who fell to the late rounds because of signability issues. 

I'm dubious as to how instructive the handling of Scott Moore is, but he's pretty much all we have so let's look at his case just to be thorough. My own doubts aside, there are some parallels to Fields. Moore was a much more highly touted prospect in his own draft (Baseball America had him as the 12th overall prospect) but he was a left-handed hitting prep shortstop taken more for his bat than his defensive aptitude. It was immediately speculated that he may need to move off shortstop - just like Fields. 

So how did the Tigers handle him? After he signed, he was put in the Gulf Coast League, where he hit pretty well. The next season, he was stuck in West Michigan as their starting third baseman. But Fields' deadline signing is going to prevent him from playing more than a few games in Florida this season, where Moore was able to get in 40 games in 2002. Also, it's entirely possible the only reason Moore was allowed to move up to West Michigan is because he was moved off shortstop to the less demanding third base position. 

Great, that leaves us with nothing. For this exercise that's frustrating but it's also exciting. Why's that? The Tigers simply do not move often on prep infielders. With Fields, they not only used an early pick but dug deep into their pockets to make sure they also signed him. They must really like this kid, and it's exciting to see them break from their usual draft philosophy to go get him. But the point of this post is to try to figure out where fans will need to go to see him next season. 

What does my gut tell me on that front? It sounds like his defense at shortstop is a question mark, and I therefore have a hard time imagining him taking the field as the Whitecaps' starting shortstop. It seems like that would be quite a challenge both on the field and at the plate and he would need to show rapid progress at the position or just blow the Tigers away with his bat. Barring such a breakthrough, he'll stay down in Florida for extended spring training and be given a chance to make his case as a shortstop. Then he'd probably either go to West Michigan when the Tiger brass feel comfortable he can handle such an assignment or stay in Florida for the start of the GCL season in June. The latter is what I'd put down as my official prediction. 
That may be a little disappointing for fans who want to see that seven-figure bonus put to work as quickly as possible, but it seems to me like the most probable course if the Tigers are going to make a good faith effort to keep him at short. Of course, this is ridiculously early for such speculation and the Tigers have been aggressive recently with players they really like. We'll just have to keep a close watch on the press clippings during the instructional league and see if the Tigers drop any hints.

My name is Matt Wallace and I've been blogging about the Tigers since the beginning of 2006, focusing on the minor league system since the beginning of 2007. I do the minor leagues at my blog, Take 75 North, but will usually focus on the major league club here. I chose this subject today so I didn't have to worry about bonking heads with the other writers, and because we're all still feeling that draft afterglow, right?