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Rays Major League debut: Playing the Field

Johnny Field is not throwing away his shot.

MLB: Spring Training-Tampa Bay Rays at Toronto Blue Jays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Back at the end of Spring Training, the competition for the final roster spot looked as if it was coming down to either Brandon Snyder or Johnny Field. It seemed like maybe the best shot the 26 year-old Field was ever going to see to break into the big leagues. So it had to be frustrating and bittersweet for Field when at the eleventh hour, the Rays went a different route, trading for his good friend and University of Arizona teammate, Rob Refsnyder, and sending Field back down for a third tour in Durham. Was the outfielder’s best shot slipping away?

But baseball gonna baseball. Just a couple weeks and a couple injuries later, and Field is back, getting the promotion to the Tampa Bay outfield with the demotion of reliever Ryan Weber. A corresponding 40-man move is still pending.

Johnny Field has always been a winner. A four-time state champ at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, where he excelled at second base, Field then went on to star in the outfield for the University of Arizona, winning the Pac-12 batting title in 2012 while putting up 370/.476/.529 slash line, and propelling the Wildcats to the 2012 College World Series championship.

His successful track record, if not his tools, is what led to his selection by the Rays in the fifth round of the 2013 draft. Field signed for $247,500.

Field has never been a scout’s dream. Depending on the context of the conversation, the words to describe Field range from “hustle,” “good makeup,” and “grinder,” to “fringy,” “undersized,” and “below average [name any tool].”

MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

When Field was drafted, most scouts pegged a move back to his high school position of second base to allow his fringy undersized below average tools to play. But he has stuck it out in the outfield, proving his versatility and making up for any lack of speed and arm strength with good instincts.

The reason he never moved back to second is...interesting?

That first summer in the New York Penn League I played outfield and the goal was to go to instructs and learn second base there and play it from there.” Fields. said about the plan to play second base. “Last two or three weeks of the season in the span of two weeks I broke my jaw and then I broke my hamate bone in back to back weeks. So, I went to instructs just to rehab obviously and didn’t get a chance as a second baseman.”

Stu Barnes, the Rays outfield coordinator at the time, then told Field they liked him in the outfield, and that was that.

Field climbed through the Rays system in the normal fashion, one step at a time, until plateauing in Durham a couple years ago. At every level, he did Johnny Field things: hit for modest average, with modest power, and modest stolen base totals, while playing adequate defense across the outfield. His lifetime minor league slash line is a respectable .271/.330/.444. He has only cracked the Rays’ Baseball America Top 30 list once, ranking #27 in 2014.

Beyond the gritty hustle, Johnny’s best asset has always been his good feel for hitting and his compact righty swing. You can really see how quick he is to the ball in the video below (and also that he’s probably a bit smaller than his listed 5’10”).

Field has been passed over twice in the Rule 5 draft, and for good reason: just about every organization already has a Johnny Field—a grinder who does nothing exceptionally well, but a lot of things decently. A guy just hoping for a shot.

Sometimes, the Johnnys Field cash in their chance and turn it into a career, a la Justin Ruggiano. Sometimes they fall flat. The “whys” often come down to luck and timing as much as they do talent.

So here’s hoping for some good luck and timing for Johnny Field. The Rays could use a little of that right about now.

Welcome to The Show, Johnny!