Commentary

Fields shines after early struggles

Updated: May 4, 2009, 2:51 PM ET
By Jon Mahoney | ESPNRISE.com

Daniel Fields couldn't have imagined a worse start to his varsity baseball career. As a freshman at University of Detroit Jesuit, Fields went 0 for his first 10 with the Cubs.

[+] EnlargeDaniel Fileds
Scott Stewart for ESPN RISE Magazine With a little help from his brother, Daniel Fields emerged as one of the top players in the country.

That's 0 for his first 10 games, not at-bats.

Fields was pressing, and it took some sound advice from his older brother, Aaron, to turn it around.

Aaron, who was then a starting senior shortstop at U of D Jesuit, believed his brother was trying too hard to prove he belonged on varsity. So while working with Daniel after practice and in the batting cage, Aaron kept telling him the importance of staying relaxed. Aaron believed if Daniel could calm his nerves, the hits would come.

After his 10th consecutive hitless game, Daniel proved his brother right by smoking a line drive up the middle against Brother Rice the very next game.

"It's probably one of the hardest hits I've ever seen him get," says Aaron, who's now a junior second baseman at Wright State. "After he got that one out of the way, a lot more came after that."

Since then, Daniel has transformed himself into a bona fide star on the diamond. Rated the nation's No. 64 high school prospect by Baseball America, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound senior shortstop (he moved from second to short after his brother graduated) and Michigan recruit is considered the state's top player and a potential early-round pick in June's MLB Draft.

It wasn't a coincidence Fields' turnaround at the dish his freshman season came around the same time U of D Jesuit started its dramatic late-season run.

Head coach Al Fernandez put Fields in the leadoff spot, and with his combination of speed and power, he helped spark the U of D offense. Along with Aaron, who hit cleanup, Fields was instrumental in the Cubs' run to the Division 1 finals.

"We can put him anywhere in the lineup, but we normally bat him leadoff because when he gets on, it's first to third," says Fernandez.

Besides having his brother around to show him the ropes, Fields also has another baseball sounding board in his father, Bruce, who played three years in the majors with the Detroit Tigers and Seattle Mariners and won three batting titles in the minors.

Bruce, who's now the minor league hitting coordinator for the Cleveland Indians, has helped his sons with the game since they were young. When it comes to their plate approach, he preaches the importance of using the entire field while staying patient and balanced.

"Whenever I'm struggling, he's able to see what I'm doing wrong and fix it right away," says Fields. "It's fun and helpful at the same time."

His father was also a hitting coach with the Detroit Tigers and managed in the minors, which allowed Fields to meet some of the best players in the game, like David Ortiz, Derek Jeter, Torii Hunter, Magglio Ordonez, Pudge Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson.

Fields was even able to take batting practice at Comerica Park with his father throwing to him. The left-handed hitter -- he throws righty, though -- will never forget walloping a homer at Comerica with a wood bat when he was 13. The ball landed two rows up in the right-field stands. "I was stunned," says Fields.

It might not even be his most impressive blast.

[+] EnlargeDaniel Fields
Scott Stewart for ESPN RISE Magazine Fields is headed to Michigan next season.

Last season, U of D Jesuit hosted De La Salle in a regular season contest. With Michigan head coach Rich Maloney in attendance, Fields hit a towering drive to deep center that hit the top of a 35-foot-tall tree some 350 feet from home plate. The tree happened to be in play and the ball ricocheted back to the infield. Fields ended up with a triple.

"It was an absolute massive shot," says Maloney. "It was one of those where you sit there and you're in awe. For a high school kid to hit a ball like that is pretty special."

But Fields isn't all about the long ball. He can also hit for average -- he came into this season batting at a .415 career clip -- and wreak havoc on the base paths. On the flipside, he plays solid defense and has a cannon for an arm.

Last season, he batted .398 with 41 runs scored, eight doubles, eight triples, five homers, 43 RBIs and 22 stolen bases in 22 attempts. U of D Jesuit advanced to the Division 1 regional semifinals, where the Cubs were edged by Berkley, 1-0.

"He's got the combination of speed and potential power that a lot of people covet," says his father. "The power has to be more consistent, and I think it will be. To me, he's a potential five-tool player."

"He's the whole package," adds Fernandez.

MLB scouts will likely come out in droves this spring to watch Fields, who knows he has another great option -- his scholarship to Michigan -- in case the draft doesn't work out.

But before Fields stresses about his future, he knows he'll have teams gunning to stop him on the high school level and observers seeing if he can rise to the challenge. It's a lot for a high school kid to deal with, but his brother thinks he can handle it.

"I just told him to play without any pressure," says Aaron. "I expect a big year out of him."

Hey, his advice worked in the past.

Jon Mahoney covers high school sports for ESPN RISE Magazine.

Jon Mahoney is a football and baseball editor for ESPNHS. Email him at jon.mahoney@espn.com.