Eight years ago, before hip surgery wiped out almost his entire 2010 season, before he spent the 2011 season with the Yomiuri Giants and before he accepted a minor league contract from the Dodgers this winter that didn't include the ever-popular escape clause at the end of spring training if he doesn't make the team, Josh Fields was a first-round draft pick of the Chicago White Sox after starring for three seasons at Oklahoma State University in his hometown of Stillwater.
It's tempting to apply the word "bust'' to a guy who traveled such a path, especially one with a .234 career batting average in parts of five big league seasons. But based on whatever judgments you can make through three Cactus League games, Fields hasn't looked the part of a wasted draft pick.
After driving a hard single up the middle off Pedro Figueroa in his only at-bat Thursday at Camelback Ranch, Fields was 4 for 5 with two doubles so far this spring. Even if he keeps it up, it isn't likely to earn him a spot on the big league club to begin the season -- there doesn't appear to be room for another corner infielder, and the 40-man roster is full anyway. But he could be a good guy to have in the organization, ready to come to the majors at a moment's notice if somebody gets hurt.
This is, after all, a player who hit 23 home runs in 100 games for the White Sox in 2007. And the Dodgers don't exactly have a power-studded lineup.
And Fields is, by all indications, all in, despite the fact he knows he probably is headed to Triple-A Albuquerque for at least the start of the season.
"I'm a Dodger,'' he said. "I had an offer to go back to Japan, but I chose not to. My focus is here. This is where I want to be. I just want to stay healthy and show them what I can do. But I know I'm going to have to hit my way back to the big leagues.''
Fields at least is in comfortable surroundings. He spent his last big league season of 2010 with the Kansas City Royals, whose manager at the time, Trey Hillman, is now the Dodgers' bench coach and remains a strong supporter of Fields.
Even if it's too early to make definitive judgments, it isn't too early to make observations and take mental notes. And Dodgers manager Don Mattingly already has taken a couple regarding Fields.
"I saw Josh when he was with the White Sox, and his swing is different now,'' Mattingly said. "We're going to put him at third base a little bit more and see what he can do there. Obviously, he is swinging the bat good.''
Fields, now 29, has played only first base in his three games for the Dodgers, but the majority of his big league time has come at third, with a few games at first and in left field sprinkled in. Although he will be judged primarily on his bat, proven defensive versatility could speed his path back to the majors on a mix-and-match team where the ability to play multiple positions is going to be critical. ...
Alex Castellanos, the guy the Dodgers got from the St. Louis Cardinals in last summer's Rafael Furcal trade, hit a solo homer to left field in the sixth inning off former Dodgers reliever Travis Schlichting. Castellanos is now 2 for 5 this spring, and while he has no shot of making the club, he is going to get an extended look at a new position, second base. How he adapts will have a big impact on whether we see him in Los Angeles this summer.
"We're looking more down the road with him,'' Mattingly said. "He is coming in every morning and doing early work. But I don't think you can take it for granted that you can throw a guy into a new spot and he'll pick it up right away. It's a lot tougher to do at this level. You can do it in high school or college, but it's hard up here to throw a guy there and expect him to play really where he isn't going to hurt you. We have to give it some time.''
Andre Ethier continued his torrid start, hitting a two-run double and drawing a walk in three plate appearances. He is hitting .500 (3 for 6) with a .571 OBP through three games. ...
Matt Guerrier, Mike MacDougal and Todd Coffey all made their Cactus League debuts, combining to pitch three scoreless innings without giving up a hit. MacDougal struggled with his control and issued back-to-back, two-out walks, but he was what Mattingly called "effectively wild,'' meaning he kept hitters off balance. ... The Dodgers (2-1-1) travel to Surprise to face the Texas Rangers on Friday, with reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw making his first Cactus League start.