Jason Beck, who covers the Detroit Tigers for MLB.com, was kind enough to answer a few questions about Prince Fielder to give Texas Rangers fans a sense of what they might be getting. (You can check out Jason's blog here.)
Q: Do you think a change of scenery will help Fielder? If so, why will Texas be good for him?
Beck: I think a fresh start could be good -- not that the situation in Detroit was toxic or beyond repair. His place in the clubhouse was really good, but I never think the homecoming angle was a big one, certainly not the way some fans might've expected when they signed him. Last year was tough on him personally with a divorce, and while I can't put myself in his shoes, I have to think it had an effect. He's a good dad who loves his kids and wants them around as much as he can. Maybe a fresh start on the field helps him.
Q: His numbers dropped off in 2013. Do you expect that trend to continue or was that a one-year anomaly?
Beck: The fact that he hasn't turned 30 yet makes me believe he can get it turned around, but I don't think it's as easy as a change of ballparks. Pitchers approached him differently this past season, and he had fewer pitches to belt out. In 2012, he countered that with a lot of opposite-field hits. This year, that wasn't there. The ballpark is friendlier, but the pitchers' approach won't be.
Q: Give us a defensive scouting report on him.
Beck: Better than I think he gets credit for, and better than his body frame would suggest. He's never going to be rangy, but he isn't lazy either, and he has an awareness of the situation on the bases. He was better in 2012, when his ability to scoop throws out of the dirt saved a good number of outs. For whatever reason this year, he seemed to miss some of those this time.
Q: What are a few things that Rangers fans may not know about Fielder?
Beck: He wants to be a good dad and has his two kids around him as much as he can. You'll see a lot of them around the ballpark during batting practice and other festivities. He's a good storyteller with a good sense of humor, and I think the quotes at the end of the season kind of took away from that and made him look more dour than he really is. On the field, he's a better baserunner than he looks, despite the terrible slides, and he'll take an extra base when a fielder slacks off thinking he'll just go station to station.
Q: What kind of leader is he? What's he like in the clubhouse?
Beck: He's a very laid-back leader. He came to Detroit at a time when the Tigers lost a huge clubhouse presence with Victor Martinez out for all of 2012, and the team kind of took on his personality. It helped a lot of players shrug off the pressure of a rough start to 2012, and I think it really helped Miguel Cabrera learn to enjoy the Triple Crown chase and the pressure that comes with it. I don't think Cabrera would've won a Triple Crown without Fielder here, and I'm not sure he would've handled the playoff races well either.
Q: Manager Ron Washington says he wants to leave Adrian Beltre at cleanup. Where would you bat Fielder?
Beck: Depends on how you see Beltre as a baserunner. I think Fielder is a good hitter to drive in slow runners if he hits for power as expected. At the same time, I think he can score on singles and doubles better than expected. He reached base far fewer times in 2013 than 2012, yet essentially matched his run total with doubles-hitting Victor Martinez batting behind him.