Mariners vice-president (scouting) Bob Fontaine held a conference call with reporters not too long ago to discuss the team using its 20th overall pick today on Josh Fields, a reliever from the University of Georgia. My first reaction when I heard about this pick, as it was for most of you I’m sure, was that the team wants a bullpen replacement for when Brandon Morrow goes into the rotation.
Hey, the M’s got away with it once, with Morrow, why not a second time? I’m sure the idea is for Mark Lowe to become the eighth inning guy, with the team hoping Fields can somehow crack the bullpen next year and become a more prominent force after that. I don’t know, though. Using a No. 1 pick on a guy expected to be nothing more than a reliever is a little different from the Morrow case. In that case, they were picking a starting pitcher and transforming him to relief work for short term purposes. In this case, what you see is what you get. I think this organization has more pressing needs than a sixth or seventh inning reliever in 2009. I know they see him as an eighth-inning guy, but I doubt he’ll be stellar in that role right away. Even Morrow needed a year to get his feet under him.
That’s my first impression. But you don’t want to hear me babble on. Let’s listen to how Fontaine answered some questions. As well as the team’s Major League/East Coast Co-ordinator, John McMichem:
Question: How close is he to the Majors?
Fontaine: You’d like to say close but you don’t want to say a month, a year or two years, but when you have that kind of stuff in a relief situation, you obviously feel it is closer than if it were a starter depending on when he gets started.
Question: Is command something you will be working on with him?
Fontaine: We saw better command this year. The one thing with a relief pitcher, your command is a little bit different than a starter because you go out later in a game and hitters have a tendency to be a little more anxious to swing at pitches. This kid’s command improved, but the breaking ball that this kid has sets up everything and that can expand the strike zone in a hurry.
McMichem: I’ve seen Josh since he was in High School. Our area scout then was named Craig Bell and he liked him a lot but it was pretty well known that Josh was going to go to college at the University of Georgia. The scout that has been scouting him this past year is named Chuck Carlson and between Craig and Chuck, we feel we have an extensive history with Josh. What I’ve seen of Josh this year, I’ve seen him twice, once was an exhibition game against the Atlanta Braves. We got to see him pitch the third inning of the game, he was 93-97, his breaking ball was a power curveball which was up to 85 miles per hour, he gave up one hit and then retired the next three that he saw. He looked like he fit in in that setting and it wasn’t hard to imagine him being in that setting in the future in a Mariners uniform. He’s not the kind of guy you want to face; you’re not going to feel comfortable in the box against him. He’s a very good athlete. He’s very strong.
Question: Is he pretty much a 2-pitch guy?
Fontaine: Being in the bullpen, that’s usually what you have (fastball, curveball) but he has a third pitch, but those are usually a show pitch for a reliever just to give the hitter one more thing to think about. He’s definitely a reliever, there’s no thought of making him a starter.
Question: Does this allow (Morrow) to move in to the rotation?
Fontaine: It certainly gives you a lot more options, yes, it does. The shorter you make the game, the easier it is for your starting pitchers. When you take nine inning games and make them six or seven inning games, it’s a lot easier for a starter than if you have to go seven or eight every night. In the last 15-20 years, you’ve seen teams with real good bullpens, you can go back to the Seattle team (2001) and it was power, power, and power. It shortens it up for the starting staff; the more you improve your bullpen, the more you improve your starting staff. Everybody would agree that it’s hard to get eight inning starters.
OK, so that’s it from the scouting folks. Now, let’s hear from Fields himself. I’ll run the entire transcript this time, starting with his opening words:
I am just super excited for the opportunity to play and I am just so pumped to see what the Lord has done for me the past year. It’s an honor to be chosen by the Seattle Mariners as their first pick.
I had heard that several teams were interested, with Seattle being one of them, it was a complete surprise, I hadn’t had any calls. I was just sitting there waiting for my name to be called and I just looked around at my family and I jumped up out of my seat so it was a complete surprise while I was watching it, it was awesome.
Question: Timeline for reaching the Majors?
Fields: I have no idea what the team is expecting of me and how long that would take but personally I would like to be in the Majors by next year but I don’t know if that is going to be possible. It’d be tough for me to say now, but I just have to wait and see how things play out. Next year is when I would like to be up there if I’m ready.
Question: What do you need to do to be ready?
Fields: Just need to refine myself more as a pitcher, control of my fastball. I can throw it on both sides of the plate now but (I have to work) on being able to keep it down more and being able to refine myself more to throw to both sides of the plate better. A little better command of my off speed would really help me make it there quickly.
Question: Why didn’t you sign last year?
Fields: I don’t expect signing to be an issue at all. I don’t know how long it’s going to take, we haven’t really started that part but I don’t think it’s going to be an issue, I’m ready to go play. I’m excited for the Mariners giving me that chance. Last year, it just wasn’t the right time for me, I didn’t feel like I was mentally or physically ready and I just felt that the timing wasn’t right last year and I feel like the timing is right on this year. Last year after the draft I was pretty set on going out, it’s been my dream my whole life. Over the summer, I really had a change of heart and I was praying a lot about it and the change of heart wasn’t anything that I’d done, because that was my dream but it felt like the Lord was leading me back to Georgia for my Senior year. Looking back on it now, all the opportunities and all the blessings that I’ve had, I feel like that was the best decision to make. I don’t think it’s going to be an issue this year; I’m ready to go play.
Question: Is Boras still your advisor?
Fields: Yes, sir.
Question: When did you develop the closer mentality?
Fields: I wanted to close coming out of High School. When I started my freshman year at Georgia, Will Startup was the closer and he had been there for a couple of years and had proven himself so any chance I could get to learn from him was great. I really started to prepare the summer after my freshman year when I played up in New Hampshire for a team called the Wombats. The first day the pitchers were all throwing bullpens and the coaches were all trying to place them where they thought they should be and I just asked him and let him know that I’d really like to be the closer for the team. They thought about it and it didn’t take them long and they said okay. I threw a bullpen and they got to see me throw and I was the guy they put in the position and it ended up working out and I haven’t looked back from there.
Question: Have you ever been up to Seattle?
Fields: I’ve never been. The closest I’ve been was when we played Oregon State this year. We weren’t very far from Washington, but that’s the closest I’ve been to Seattle.
Question: Do you know who the Mariners closer is?
Fields: I am not sure.
Question: You don’t button up your jersey, is there a story behind that?
Fields: That started at school. A lot of the guys would button them all up, some would not button the top button but for me, I think I got it from Chipper Jones. Ever since I’ve been in college I’ve kept the top two unbuttoned. It’s been once or twice where an umpire told me to button it up and I wasn’t too happy about that. I guess it’s just been a mark for me, other guys do it, but that’s one thing that defines me and I’ve been going with it ever since.
Question: What was it like, the pressure, after being drafted by your hometown team?
Fields: There was a little bit of pressure, I did grow up watching the Braves, I live an hour and a half from the stadium and it would have been nice but more of it came early on. As the summer played out, the summer really alleviated, it just felt like coming back was the right thing and there was no pressure because that’s what I wanted to do and I wasn’t ready yet. When it came time to make the decision, I didn’t feel any pressure either way.
Question: What is it like to be preparing for the Super Regionals and have something like this come up right in the middle?
Fields: It is something that I’ve never had to deal with before, it was a different experience, but to be honest, I hadn’t thought about the draft until these last couple of days. We’ve been playing and pulling off of last year and seeing the business side of baseball and how you can’t take things personally, you have to roll with the punches and it really helped to prepare me for this year. Last year I put a lot of pressure on myself and I thought about it and this year I tried to step back and told myself to be myself and do what I do and that helped take a lot of pressure off me. This year, I didn’t have anything to lose after the season that I had and I just tried to put the draft in the back of my mind and wanted to be myself and had fun. This year has been so much fun since I’ve been back. These last couple of days, after the regionals were over, I’ve been thinking about it because there were no games in between then and the draft. I’ve enjoyed the experience while it’s lasted but I have to put it in the back of my mind and get ready for NC State this weekend.
Question: Had you thought about where you might go?
Fields: I had heard about different teams that had interest in me, most of it was middle to late first round, they said there was some supplemental, even some second round stuff, but most of it was middle to late first round so that’s where I was expecting to go. I’ll be honest, I was getting a little bit honest, I was getting a little bit antsy as the 18th and 19th picks started rolling around because I knew that the first round was coming to an end. I had heard that it would probably be late first round, but to go to the Mariners at the 20th pick was a real surprise and it was awesome.
Question: Where did you watch the draft?
Fields: I was in Athens at my apartment, my parents were with me, two of my best friends and my girlfriend were there, we were just chilling on the couch and watching it there.
Question: Have you had a chance to learn about the Mariners?
Fields: I haven’t had a chance, It’s been pretty hectic, a lot of phone calls and text messages so I haven’t really had a chance to look at the staff and the team just yet but I’m really excited to get that chance.
Question: Who did you pattern your game after?
Fields: As far as pitching style, I like Roger Clemens a lot just because he had that bulldog mentality on the mound, not afraid to knock down and off the plate and really dominate the inside part of the plate. As far as demeanor and mentality on the mound, I like to look at Mariano Rivera because he seems so cool no matter what is going on on the mound and nothing fazes him and that’s something that I work very hard on on the mound, even when things aren’t going right, just to show absolutely no emotions. Even though I may be feeling things on the inside, I just can’t let anybody else see that. Mariano Rivera has done that very well and that’s what I try to mimic out there on the mound.