The Rays are known in the draft for selecting high-upside high school players, especially up-the-middle players and pitchers. Once you get beyond that, though, there’s another class of players that the Rays seemingly can’t get enough of: gritty second basemen coming out of college. In recent years, we have seen them select Tyler Bortnick, Taylor Motter, and Tommy Coyle all of whom fit that type of profile. Johnny Field is a second baseman coming out of Arizona best described as a grinder himself. But this time there’s a twist–Bortnick, Motter, and Coyle were selected in the 16th round, 17th round, and 16th round respectively. Field comes to the Rays as a 5th round pick and the reason is simple: he has the ability to be better than any of those three ever were.
Field, 5’10″ and 195 pounds, stood out for the defending NCAA champion Wildcats for his hustle and knack for the clutch hit. But being that type of scrappy player by no means indicates that he doesn’t have some talent. Field makes a ton of contact with a compact swing with above-average bat speed, and he uses it well, shooting the gaps. He’s difficult to strike out, following a lot of pitches off, but despite his propensity for contact he draws a good amount of walks. He was always considered a player with little power, but he has actually started to change that perception a little bit as he has done a good job driving a few pitches when he gets the opportunity and could in fact be a 10-15 homer guy down the line. That power is really what separates him from the players we discussed above. On the opposite edge of the spectrum, Field is a very good bunter, and while he isn’t very fast, he steals bases using good instincts. Field can do a little bit of everything at the plate, hitting for a solid average with good discipline and some power and speed.
Defensively, Field played a lot of left field in college, playing alongside Joey Rickard, the Rays’ 9th round pick from last year currently at Low-A, in 2011 and 2012. But as a professional, Field won’t hit nearly enough to profile as a regular there and will instead play a lot of the other position he played in college, second base. Field has good hands and a solid arm, and pairing that with good range gives him a chance to be an above-average defender. Field has a chance to be an average to above-average second baseman thanks to his nice ability on both sides of the ball and all the things he does to help a team win. But considering he already has left field experience under his belt, you have to wonder whether he could end up as more a super-utility type of player who gives you good at-bats wherever you play him. Field could move pretty quickly through the minors in that role and give the Rays a utility option before long.
If you want to stretch, you can make a Ben Zobrist comparison with Field considering the versatility the two have in common along with their draft slots (Zobrist was a 6th round pick). That comp doesn’t really work because Field is smaller than Zobrist, has much worse power and arm strength, and can’t play shortstop. At the same time, though, you can see from Zobrist how the Rays are willing to get creative to maximize their players’ talents and Field couldn’t have ended up in an organization that appreciates his abilities more. The Rays believe that in Field they have not just a gritty utility guy but a player who can get into their lineup and really make an impact, and he will start to prove he can be that as his professional career begins.