Obviously I love what I do here at Central In Focus - I enjoy writing about/discussing/analyzing baseball and I think that over the past year and change I've gotten better at all of it. One thing I've always wanted to do however, was to get closer to the players themselves and to try and share that with my readers. With that in mind, I have what will be the first of many player question-and-answer pieces that you'll be seeing this spring.
I hope it makes an interesting new addition to everything else you'll find here, adding some thoughts from professional players to my analysis. A lot of the questions will be fun, some serious, and hopefully at least one or two that are enlightening.
Without further ado, our first player Q and A; Daniel Fields, ranked the 5th best prospect in the Tigers system by Baseball America, the 3rd best by ESPN's Keith Law (and most importantly, a fellow Ken Griffey Jr. fan). Enjoy!
1) You grew up around the game with a father who played professionally and even spent some time in the Majors, how would you say that played into your development? Unfortunately, there are some parents who push their kids really hard in one way or another - did you ever feel forced into the game, or was it a natural passion?
"Being around the game since I was young helped out a lot. Being able to see how the guys went about their business and how much hard work they put into it definitely helped me out a lot. I was not pressured at all by my parents to play baseball. I played basketball and football too, and I really wanted to play baseball."
2) Rumor has it that when you were 12, you hit a homerun at Comerica Park during batting practice. Looking back on when I was 12, that seems like a near technical impossibility. What was that like, were people going nuts?
"Yeah it was pretty crazy when i did it. I was definitely surprised when it happened and everybody else was too. I was so excited and wanted to hit another one I broke my wood bat the next pitch."
3) Were there any other particularly memorable moments from your high school years or before?
"Yeah definitely what I remember from when I was younger was when my dad managed the West Michigan Whitecaps and they won the championship being in the dugout and celebrating with the team. Another moment was playing in the state championship baseball game in high school with my brother. And that was the first time we ever played on the same team together for a season."
4) Growing up, did you have a favorite player, or any one you tried to emulate?
"Yeah my favorite player growing up was Ken Griffey Jr. I would always try to emulate his swing. "
5) Is there anyone besides your father who has a had a particularly large influence on you growing up? How so?
"I would say it was my mother. With my dad being gone a lot of the time it was my brother and I and my mother and she would take us to all of our baseball games and sporting events. She helped my brother and I with everything growing up and I really thank her for that."
6) You're a Michigan native and I know you had a scholarship to the University of Michigan to play baseball. Was turning the scholarship down particularly hard - was it made any easier knowing that you'd be able to stay with the Tigers? Would you have turned it down if a team other than the Tigers had made the same offer?
"Yeah turning down that scholarship was a real hard thing to do. Especially with the relationship I had with the coaches and some of the players that were coming in. It was easier since the team was the Tigers. Maybe besides the Indians because my dad works for them but any other team I think I would have turned it down."
7) Has staying close to home helped - having friends and family nearby for support during the off season?
"Yeah it definitely has. A lot of times I am visiting schools that my friends go to for the weekend. My friends and family have definitely supported me a lot through everything I have been through so I really appreciate all of that."
8) You played shortstop throughout high school, but as a professional, you're an outfielder. What has that transition been like? When did the Tigers move you, did you have any qualms about it, what has the process been like, how do you feel about your progress...?
"It has been a really smooth transition for me. I played some outfield when I was younger and would always shag fly balls when I would be with my dad traveling so it was not a very big change for me. They moved me right before spring training started last year. I really did not mind the move at all. Whatever would help me get the Big Leagues faster was fine with me. The process has been going good. I feel my progress out in the outfield has been going great and I am very comfortable out there."
Follow-up: We frequently hear about players who change to a new position saying it effected their offensive rhythm. But you're saying that for you, it wasn't an issue at all?
"No I actually think it helped my offense. I was able to focus more on offense by being in the outfield. When I played in the infield I focused a lot on that and not a lot on offense."
9) Any issues with the switch from metal bats to wood?
"The switch from metal to wood has not been that big. I would always swing with a wood bat since I was younger so I had the feeling for it for awhile now."
10) What has the process of working through the minors been like? What have been the greatest adjustments/struggles from one level to the next?
"It's a long process but with hard work you can move quickly through a system. The biggest adjustments would have to be staying consistent. When I struggled was when I lost my rhythm at the plate and got away from the things I was doing earlier in the year. So being consistent would be a major key."
Follow-up: If you wouldn't mind, could you elaborate? What was it that you felt you got away from that had allowed you to be successful earlier in the season?
"I was really driving the ball the other way earlier in the year and got away from that. I started to pull off the ball and my front shoulder was opening up to fast."
11) You're still quite young but have already shown the ability to hit at the High A level, with some impressive numbers including 8 homeruns and 6 triples. That's certainly an interesting power/speed combination. How would you describe yourself as a player?
"Yeah I would say I have the rare combination of speed and power. The stolen bases were not where I wanted them to be last year because of hamstring problems that I had."
12) The one area of your game that would seem to be a concern is the strikeouts. I'm sure that's something that's been addressed by your coaches. What kinds of things are you working on? Changes to your swing, different drills?
"Yeah that was definitely a big thing for me last year. Pitch recognition is what I have really been working on this off-season. I felt like in instructional league I did a better job of that and played pretty well."
Follow-up: What kinds of work have you been doing to improve your pitch recognition and are there tips you'd have for kids coming up in high school seeing their first curveballs and sliders?
"I have really been working on seeing the pitch out of the hand to get a good read on the ball."
"Yeah I would say that when your hitting early in the count not to swing at off speed pitches. Try and hit the fast ball. A lot of times in high school the pitchers can't throw them pitches for strikes"
13) What's the best part of playing baseball professionally?
"It has been a dream of mine ever since I was younger. Being able to play my favorite sport as my job is great. I love it."
14) The worst?
"The only thing that is bad would be the amount of time I am away from my family and friends."
Follow-up: You don't even mind the bus rides and hotels?
"No I don't mind that stuff at all. That's a part of the game and at every level your going to have to deal with travel and all that stuff. Surprisingly I actually like the bus rides and traveling."
You're a better man than me.
15) And finally - what's it going to be like when you finally reach the Majors? You're running onto the field at Comerica, your family is in the stands, the city is cheering their hometown guy. Put that into words if you can.
"Wow that is definitely something I am going to remember for the rest of my life. It might even bring tears to my eyes. I have been waiting on that moment for my whole life. And for the opportunity for it to be in my hometown would be very special."
Corey Ettinger is a proud contributor to both 612Sports.net and 312Sports.com. He also provides extensive analysis of the American League Central Division at his own blog, AL Central In Focus.