Daniel Fields has been toiling around the Tigers' minor league system for a long time. Not as long as someone like Mike Hessman, mind you, but a long time nonetheless. He spent four years working up through two levels of the system, and made the jump to Triple A in 2014. It should have been the year that he received a late season call-up, but poor performance and a fractured right hand limited him to just 299 plate appearances with the Mud Hens.
Fields was drafted by the Tigers out of University of Detroit Jesuit High School in 2009. The son of Tigers minor league hitting coordinator Bruce Fields, Daniel debuted at High-A Lakeland in 2010. He hit .240/.343/.371 in 438 plate appearances that year, a fairly impressive line considering he was only 19 years old. The Tigers held him back in Lakeland in 2010, where he hit just .220/.308/.326 this time around.
Fields also spent the first half of the 2012 season in Lakeland, but was called up to Double-A Erie at the beginning of August. He hit .264/.352/.358 in the final month of the season with the SeaWolves, cementing his spot in their outfield in 2013. Still only 22 at the time, Fields had his best season that year, hitting .284/.356/.435 with 43 extra base hits in 515 plate appearances.
The breakout season put Fields on the periphery of the Tigers' prospect radar. Jordan Gorosh rated him as the #13 prospect in the organization prior to the 2014 season, citing improvements in his swing that translated to on-field production.
Fields has a fourth outfielder profile for me, but could be an effective one, especially on a good team. He has the tools to contribute to a major league roster, however, I don't believe he's ready at this time. Fields is slotted for Triple A this season, and more reps in the minors aren't a bad thing at all. There's the possibility that he's ready later in 2014. I do believe he'll see some time with the big club come September, but he should be ready to compete for an extra outfield spot in 2015, depending on roster construction, of course.
Fields struggled in the early part of the season, hitting .234/.284/.371 in his first 34 games. He struggled to make contact at the Triple-A level, fanning 39 times in 134 plate appearances. The contact issues were always present -- he whiffed 130 times in 2013 -- but the significant drop in walk rate killed his on-base percentage.
Fields added injury to insult when he was hit by a pitch on the right hand in a game on May 14th. The play resulted in a fractured hand, keeping him out of action for two months. He returned in early July, spending a week at Double-A Erie before returning to Toledo. He continued to struggle making contact down the stretch, but improved his eye at the plate. His power also started to return towards the end of the season; Fields collected six extra base hits in the final 15 games of the year.
The Tigers sent Fields to the Arizona Fall League after the season to get more at-bats. Fields didn't hit for much power, but got on base at a .375 clip in 12 games. He also struck out 15 times in 47 at-bats.
Fields has yet to make his major league debut. He was on the Tigers' 40-man roster for the entire 2014 season, and still has one minor league option remaining.
Stats and projections
While Fields probably won't lock up a starting job for 2016 unless he goes all J.D. Martinez on the International and American Leagues, he could play his way into a fourth outfield spot. Fields is a better defender than Collins, though both are best suited for left field duty. Fields has enough speed to swipe 10-12 bases at the major league level, but doesn't offer the same game-changing baserunning ability that Rajai Davis does. Fields is a better fit if there are three full-time outfield starters on the roster, but his value becomes marginalized if one or more positions require a platoon.
Fields may earn a late season call-up with a resurgent season, but any suspense about where he breaks spring training will have to wait until 2016. With roster spots at a premium and Tyler Collins ahead of Fields on the outfield pecking order, the 24-year-old Detroit native will likely spend most of 2015 in Triple A. The 2014 season was largely a lost year for Fields due to the injury, making 2015 even more important for him and his career.