Fields battling hard for spot on Dodgers' roster

Fields battling hard for spot on Dodgers' roster

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The only mild surprise in the Dodgers' first round of cuts on Thursday was corner infielder Russell Mitchell, which leads to another surprise in camp, Josh Fields.

Fields is Mitchell with a history of Major League success, a corner infielder who slugged 23 home runs as a rookie for the Chicago White Sox in 2007, only to have his career get sidetracked by knee and hip surgeries.

His road back to the Major Leagues hasn't been an easy one and included a detour to Japan last summer. He's in Dodgers camp on a Minor League contract, but he's made enough of an early impression that he leaped past Mitchell as an insurance candidate at third base if Juan Uribe should fail again, and at first base behind James Loney.

Fields, batting .421 this spring, is still a longshot to make the Dodgers' Opening Day roster. Assuming a 12-man pitching staff and with the flexibility provided by utilityman Jerry Hairston, who can play infield and outfield, the Dodgers might not carry an extra corner infielder, although Fields could also contribute as a pinch-hitter because the bench is short on right-handed power.

Fields, Jerry Sands and Justin Sellers are probably fighting for the last roster spot, barring injury.

For Fields to make the club it would likely mean that Sands wouldn't. The Dodgers don't want to keep Sands in the Major Leagues if he doesn't get significant at-bats. If the first stringers are healthy -- and that means primarily Loney and corner outfielders Andre Ethier and Juan Rivera -- the at-bats will not be there for Sands.

Besides, if part of the last position player's role is to be a right-handed pinch-hitter, Fields' experience is likely to get the nod over the inexperienced Sands.

The 27-year-old Mitchell, who appeared in the Major Leagues briefly the last two seasons, came to camp 20 pounds lighter after a dedicated offseason conditioning regimen following wrist surgery, but he was 1-for-12 in six spring games and has a .151 career average in 93 Major League at-bats. He was taken off the roster last month to make room for the signing of reliever Todd Coffey.

"There were no at-bats left for him and he was scuffling with his swing, and not getting at-bats is not going to help," said manager Don Mattingly. "I my mind, he has a chance to get his swing together and compete. He wanted to prove he was ready and came in in great shape, but you can't force timing. He was pushing a little too hard. He has to go work on his swing.

"One thing about Mitch -- he has a ton of flexibility and has a chance to be a good National League guy. He can play third, first, a little second and be an emergency catcher. He's got value there -- if he can swing the bat at the Major League level the way he did at the Minor League level. He's hit some home runs, but there really hasn't been much between."

Of course, there's the chance that a final position spot wouldn't go to Fields, either. Justin Sellers still has a lot of backers in the organization and he is the most natural shortstop in the group of candidates fighting for a spot.

Jerry Hairston projects as the backup to Dee Gordon on the depth chart, but two errors Wednesday were a reminder that shortstop isn't Hairston's most comfortable infield position. Second base is, but Adam Kennedy is comfortable there, too. And Kennedy can play both corners, another reason why Fields is no slam dunk to make it.

"Sellers is a little different [than Mitchell]," Mattingly said. "He can really play the infield. Backing up at shortstop is a little tough. If you need a guy to play short for three weeks, you're not losing anything defensively with Justin. And he has some pop [offensively] there. Just enough to get into trouble."

Another veteran with an outside chance of making the club is non-roster outfielder Cory Sullivan, who started in left field on Thursday against the Royals. The former Colorado Rockie spent most of last year at home with his daughter, but he is hitting .333 this spring.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.