Fields finding his way with Ritchie's help

Fields finding his way with Ritchie's help

Fields finding his way with Ritchie's help
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- For Pirates third baseman Josh Fields and hitting coach Gregg Ritchie, it's always been one way.

A top-rated prospect, Fields began his pro career in 2005 at the White Sox's Double-A affiliate in Birmingham, Ala., a year after Chicago made him the 18th overall pick in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft.

Ritchie was Fields' hitting coach in Birmingham.

"We used to always talk about hitting, it's one way. One way instead of five ways," Ritchie said Thursday after Fields singled and walked in a pair of plate appearances against the Rays. "I remember him yelling across the field when he was in Triple-A Charlotte [in 2006] and I was over with the Pirates' [Triple-A affiliate Indianapolis], and he was starting to have a good season that year.

"He goes, 'Hey, one way, baby!' He says, 'I got it! One way!'"

The point was not to complicate things. Don't go up there trying five different batting stances, as young guys are wont to do.

2010 Spring Training - null
Sights & Sounds
Spring Training Info

Seemingly, little was complicated for Fields at the start of his career. A star at Oklahoma State, he hit 16 home runs for Birmingham in '05, and hit 19 more the next year at Triple-A before making his Major League debut.

On Sept. 18, 2006, Fields became just the third player in White Sox history to homer in his first Major League at-bat -- a pinch-hit shot, no less. The company he joined? Miguel Olivo and Carlos Lee.

Fields didn't stick, though. He played a career-high 100 games in the Majors in '07, hitting .244, and after the '09 season, he was traded to Kansas City. Now with the Pirates, Fields is trying to break camp as a utility man and corner infielder, a pinch-hit guy who can play third, first and some outfield.

It's not the trajectory he imagined.

"I don't think anyone that dreams of playing in the big leagues envisions the bench spot and stuff like that," Fields said. "But the way my career's gone, injuries and different things like that ... "

Fields underwent labral surgery on his right hip in April last year, costing him most of the season. He came to the Pirates this offseason because he saw the youth movement the organization is undertaking, and along with it, he likely saw a chance to play, too.

Fields singled on a 3-1 pitch in his first at-bat on Friday, and he walked in his second. His start this spring might've been slower then he hoped -- he's 4-for-18 with twice as many strikeouts (six) as walks -- but he's in the mix.

"I feel good, I'm moving good, I'm running good," Fields said. "It is what it is, battling for a spot. Everyone wants to be in the big leagues, and if it takes to play every couple days and [to] pinch-hit to be here and help the team, that's where I want to be."

There is a comfort zone with the Pirates for Fields. Besides Ritchie, he was college roommates with catcher Jason Jaramillo, he worked with third-base coach Nick Leyva in the White Sox organization, and he worked with first-base coach Luis Silverio with the Royals last season.

But there's also a period of adjustment. Ritchie said the trust is there with Fields, but they haven't clicked on a mechanical level just yet. It's a getting-to-know-you-again process.

"That was, whatever it was, four or five years ago, and you know, philosophies change during that time, and you kind of have to learn how to talk to each other again," Fields said. "He's learning what my keys are to make me think right when I'm in the box, stuff like that. But for the most part, it's good."

It's still early, but both Ritchie and manager Clint Hurdle like what they've seen.

"We've moved him around a couple places, and the hard part is just getting some continuity with the reps," Hurdle said. "He's made some things happen the last couple nights. He got a push bunt to start a rally, won a game. A drag bunt the other night. Delayed steal. ... He's doing the things he needs to do to be effective."

Fields isn't in a position to rocket to a starting job as he did six years ago, but he's also not the same guy he once was. He has a son, Kaden, and they live with his wife, Ashleigh, in Bradenton, right where the Pirates train. The Josh Fields that Ritchie works with now is more mature.

On the diamond, though, they still joke about it. It certainly worked then, so why not?

"Make it simple," Ritchie said. "Stick to one way."

Evan Drellich is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @EvanDrellich. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.