Rising to stardom: Prince Fielder
July, 15, 2011
By David Schoenfield | ESPN.com
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireAt age 27, Prince Fielder is on pace for a fifth straight season of 30-plus home runs.The Milwaukee Brewers made Prince Fielder the seventh overall selection in the 2002 draft, so his rise to stardom and MVP candidacy can't be considered a complete surprise. Still, he was one of the more controversial top-10 picks of the past decade, considering his weight issues in high school (he approached 300 pounds) and the general approach of teams to use high selections on pitchers or more well-rounded, athletic players. In fact, since 2000, only four others players were drafted in the top-10 picks as first basemen -- Adrian Gonzalez, Matt LaPorta, Eric Hosmer and Yonder Alonso.
Fielder attended Eau Gallie High School in Melbourne, Fla. He worked with a personal trainer as a high school senior, dropping his weight to 250 pounds, and hit over .500 with 10 home runs. The Brewers watched him closely all spring and scouting director Jack Zduriencik loved his bat. So after Bryan Bullington, B.J. Upton, Chris Gruler, Adam Loewen, Clint Everts and Zack Greinke went off the board, Milwaukee took the big guy.
"We've known him for three years," Zduriencik said at the time. "We've seen an awful lot of him in many different circumstances. It was a tough bat to pass up. Any time you can add power to an organization, it's tough to pass up."
Many scouts, of course, were concerned about Fielder's weight -- he weighed 300 pounds as a high school sophomore -- and worried that even if the bat was for real, he wouldn't be anything more than a DH. Baseball America rated Fielder No. 22 in their mock draft. "They say I'm a one dimensional player or whatever. I'll take that if I get to be the seventh pick in the country," Fielder said. "You call me one-dimensional. OK. There's a lot of five-dimensional players that weren't No. 7 in the country.
On ESPN.com, John Sickes wrote, "Scouts love his power; he has even more oomph in his bat than father Cecil. He hit over .500 this year, shows good plate discipline, and has an advanced understanding of the game."
Fielder signed quickly and went to Ogden of the Pioneer League, destroying the league to the tune of a .390/.531/.678 line with 10 home run in 146 at-bats. He also showed the plate discipline that Sickels referred to, drawing 37 walks in 41 games. He was even promoted to Class A Beloit of the Midwest League, where he hit .241 with three home runs in 32 games. All in all, it was an impressive debut and Baseball America rated him the No. 78 prospect entering the 2003 season.
Fielder returned to Beloit in 2003, just 19 years old. He spent the entire season there, hitting .313/.380/.409/.526, with 27 home runs and 71 walks and 80 strikeouts. He was the best hitter in the league despite being one of the few teenagers in the circuit. His bat was so good that despite limitations with his glove, Baseball America ranked him the No. 10 prospect entering the 2004 season.
Anyway, from there Fielder remained one of baseball's top prospects. He hit .272 with 23 home runs in Double-A and .291/.388/.569 at Triple-A, still one of the youngest players in the league. He earned a late-season promotion to the majors in 2005 and hit .288 in 59 at-bats. As a rookie in 2006, he hit .271 with 28 home runs. He exploded as a sophomore with 50 home runs, increased his walk rate and finished third in the NL MVP vote.