Heading into the 2007 season, outfielder Travis Buck and third baseman Josh Fields were primo prospects. Baseball America ranked Buck, the Oakland Athletics’ supplemental first-round pick in the 2005 draft, as the 50th best farm talent in the game. A standout quarterback at Oklahoma State, Fields gave up throwing spirals to sign with the Chicago White Sox for $1.55 million as the 18th pick in the 2004 draft. He entered 2007 as BA’s #45 prospect.
By now, Buck and Fields were supposed to be franchise bulwarks. Instead, they’re merely looking to land bench jobs and avoid the trainer’s table in new cities. A Super Two player non-tendered by the A’s, Buck inked a minor league deal with the Cleveland Indians. Fields was similarly humbled; Kansas City non-tendered him, and the Pirates extended him a minor league contract with small incentives based on major league plate appearances.
Buck, who turned 27 in November, has accumulated 669 big league plate appearances. Overall, the lefty hitter has a .250/.330/.424 line, which equates to a .331 wOBA. Adjusted for park and league factors, Buck’s bat has been four percent better than the MLB average (104 wRC+). The former Sun Devil hasn’t shown monstrous secondary skills, but his 9.6 percent walk rate and .174 Isolated Power aren’t shabby for a guy who has rated well in the field (about seven runs above average in 1,360 innings).
Of course, as that PA total since 2007 suggests, Buck has shown the durability of fine china. According to the Baseball Injury Tool, he has been placed on the major league DL five times during his career: separate stints for a sprained left thumb and a hamstring strain in 2007, shin splits in 2008, a strained oblique in 2009, and another oblique injury in 2010. Buck also suffered a concussion in ’08 after sliding into a wall while playing at Triple-A Sacramento.
Buck didn’t hit much in the majors after a positive rookie year in ’07, and his work with Sacramento from 2007-2010 (.284/.366/.423 in 613 PA) didn’t stand out. Dan Szymborski’s 2011 ZiPS projection recently pegged Buck as a .241/.311/.369 MLB hitter. While that forecast was for Buck batting in the unforgiving Coliseum, that line’s inadequate no matter how you try to spin it. This is where Buck’s career stands several years after topping Oakland’s prospect list: he’s a bad bet to stay healthy, and even if he’s well enough to play, you probably don’t want him out there. He’ll compete with Austin Kearns, Trevor Crowe, Shelley Duncan and Jordan Brown for a reserve outfield spot in Cleveland.
Now joining his third organization, Fields’ career has gone down a similarly depressing path. The 6-foot-2, 225 pound righty hitter thrashed Triple-A pitching in 2006 (.305/.379/.515) and didn’t embarrass himself offensively during his rookie season with the White Sox, but contact issues and lousy defense caused him to lose favor in Chicago. Fields, along with Chris Getz, was shipped to Kansas City in November of 2009 for Mark Teahen. The 28-year-old’s Royals career consisted of a whopping 50 late-season plate appearances, as a torn labrum in his right hip required surgery that knocked him out for nearly all of 2010.
In 796 career MLB PA, Fields owns a .234/.303/.421 triple-slash and a .314 wOBA. His park and league-adjusted wOBA is 13 percent worse than average (87 wRC+). Fields has shown power, with a .187 ISO, and his 8.7 percent walk rate is a hair above average. Unfortunately, he has also whiffed nearly a third of the time (33 percent K rate), and his third base D has been brutal (about 11 runs below average in 1,315 innings).
A lumbering player coming off hip surgery, Fields’ days at third base might be numbered (he has also played some first base and left field in the majors). Considering his iron glove, he’ll have to run circles around his ZiPS projection (.251/.315/.391) to have any value. At the very least, Fields and Andy Marte should really hit it off as they wax nostalgic about the middle of the decade. Hey, they can’t be worse than Andy LaRoche, right?
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