"I haven't had a chance to sit down and look at the team, but I will," the 22-year-old said late on Thursday afternoon, almost four hours after the Mariners made him their first-round selection in the First-Year Player Draft. "I am just super-excited for the opportunity and honored to be chosen by the Mariners as their first-round pick."
His excitement came through loud and clear during a 20-minute conference call with Seattle-area media. The University of Georgia senior said, among other things, that he has never regretted returning to college instead of signing with the Braves, who drafted him between the first and second rounds last year, and hopes to ride a fast track to the big leagues.
"To be honest, I have no idea what the team is expecting of me," Fields said in a southern drawl. "Personally, I would like to be in the Majors by next year, although I don't know if that would be possible."
The Mariners made five other selections on Day 1 of the Draft: Outfielder Dennis Rabin from the University of Miami; right-handed pitcher Aaron Pribanic, out of the University of Nebraska; right-hander Steven Hensley from Elon University; right-handed pitcher Brett Lorin from Long Beach State and outfielder Jarrett Burgess out of Florida Christian High School.
For the third consecutive year, and 14th time in franchise history, the Mariners selected a pitcher in the first round. Seattle selected right-handed reliever Brandon Morrow with the fifth overall pick in 2006, and already are reaping the benefits, and drafted right-handed starter Phillippe Aumont last year with the 11th overall selection. He is in his first season and last week was named to the Midwest League All-Star team.
The Mariners are hoping to continue their first-round success with Fields.
"Josh has proved to be one of the top college pitchers in this year's Draft," scouting director Bob Fontaine said. "We are very happy that he was available when we made our selection. With his potential, we think he can only get better in the future and we are extremely pleased to have the rights to him."
Asked how close he thought the Bulldogs' closer was to being Major League-ready, Fontaine said, "You like to say close. I wouldn't want to say a month, a year, two years, but you got to think that when you have that kind of stuff in a relief situation, obviously you feel they're closer than if they're a starter. And a lot of it too depends on when he gets started."
The way Fields talked, the sooner the better -- and next season would not be too soon.
Fields and his college team currently are preparing for the NCAA Super Regional against North Carolina State, which begins on Friday, and that's where his focus is directed. But he also is eager to begin his professional career and faces an Aug. 15 signing deadline.
"I don't expect signing to be an issue," said Fields, who will be represented in contract talks by agent Scott Boras. "I'm not sure how long it would take, but I don't think it would be an issue. I'm excited the Mariners are giving me that chance. Last year was not the right time [to sign]. I was not mentally or physically ready. I feel like the timing is right on this year."
Fontaine said, "We drafted him because we're planning on signing him. We're gonna do what we think is right, and hopefully it'll work out. I mean, there are never any guarantees with anybody you draft, but we're hopeful."
An unsigned Fields returned to school last fall and was named as First Team All-American by Collegiate Baseball newspaper following his senior season. He was also honored as the Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Year for 2008 after recording 16 saves with a 2-2 record and a 2.27 ERA. The SEC career saves leader with 39, Fields helped Georgia capture the 2008 SEC title and a No. 8 national seed in the NCAA Tournament.
He has a 92- to 95-mph fastball with minimal movement, and a superb curveball that he throws in the 78-80 mph range. He has a lean, wiry and thin frame with a whipping arm action, similar to former University of Washington pitcher Tim Lincecum.
The Mariners went into the first day of the two-day Draft prepared to select a pitcher or position player. There were more quality position players than usual available this year, and they went early. Seven of the first eight selections were non-pitchers.
"We had mentioned to you earlier about position players being heavy in the Draft," Fontaine said of his pre-Draft media interviews. "The one thing that does happen when that takes place is that by the time you draft 20th, a good many of [the position players] are already gone, which leaves a lot of pitchers available, and that is the way we went. I think the first 10 out of 12 were position players if I'm not mistaken. But we had decided that if this happened, would be in position to get some power arms, and most of the power arms at that part of the draft are relievers.
Mariners' top five selections
|20.||RHP||Josh Fields||U of Georgia|
|66.||RF||Dennis Raben||U of Miami|
|98.||RHP||Benjamin Pribanic||U of Nebraska Lincoln|
|132.||RHP||Steven Hensley||Elon U|
|162.||RHP||Brett Lorin||Cal St Long Beach|
|Complete Mariners Draft results >|
"And when you can get a reliever with a power arm that's on a relatively short course to the Major Leagues, it makes it very, very attractive. We've watched this kid for a long time and he has a power arm, a power curveball and he is a good competitor. We're very, very happy. This is a great starting point for us in this Draft."
"Josh Fields and Dennis Rabin are the two guys we set out to get in the first two rounds. We took a lot of pitching. After Rabin we took three college pitchers, starters with power arms and then we finished up with a young athlete out of Miami [Jarrett Burgess]. Overall, we got three starting pitchers, a reliever, a left-handed power bat and an athlete that has great tools," said Fontaine, wrapping up Day 1 of the Draft.
Earlier on Thursday, the Mariners "drafted" John "Mule" Miles as part of a ceremonial Negro Leagues Player Draft.
"The Seattle Mariners are honored to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of the Negro Leagues," club president Chuck Armstrong said in a prepared statement. "Seattle has a long history in the Negro Leagues, going all the way back to the Seattle Steelheads, and we are very excited to welcome John "Mule" Miles to our organization."
Here's a look at the Mariners' first-day picks:
Round 1, pick No. 20 overall: Josh Fields, RHP, University of Georgia
Fields stayed in school for his senior season and won the 2008 SEC Pitcher of the Year.. This season, he has recorded 56 strikeouts in 31 2/3 innings while posting 16 saves with a 2.27 ERA. At 6-feet, 178 pounds, Seattle thinks he can get to the Majors quickly. He features a mid-to-high 90s fastball and a power curveball.
Round 2, pick No. 66 overall: Dennis Rabin, RF, University of Miami
A junior this season at UM, Rabin had a big showing last summer in the Cape Cod League but has slowed down a little bit during the season. He's a left-hander with some power who has a .302 batting average this season with nine home runs and 47 RBIs.
Round 3, pick No. 98 overall: Aaron Pribanic, RHP, University of Nebraska, Lincoln
Pribanic is a junior college transfer with a low-to-mid 90s fastball and a decent changeup and slider. He stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 200 pounds. This season at Nebraska, he had a 4.72 ERA and 59 strikeouts in 74 and a third innings.
Round 4, pick No. 132 overall: Steven Hensley, RHP, Elon University
Hensley, a junior at Elon from Asheville, N.C., went 10-2 with a 3.59 ERA this season. He struck out 99 hitters in 92 and two thirds innings. He's listed at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds.
Round 5, pick No. 162 overall: Brett Lorin, RHP, Cal State Long Beach
Lorin, 6-foot-7, 245 pounds, started eight games and made 15 appearances overall, posting a 2.61 ERA with 31 strikeouts in 48 1/3 innings.
Round 6, pick No. 192 overall: Jarrett Burgess, RF, Florida Christian School, Miami, Fla.