06/04/2002 4:44 pm ET
Bauman: Brewers get a Prince
It was on a clear but cool February day in Lakeland, Fla., when the Prince Fielder phenomenon first emerged into the view of the general baseball public.
That is where and when the Prince Fielder buzz started. And it carried all the way through the First-Year Player Draft Tuesday when Prince Fielder was the seventh player taken in the first round, drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers.
Two Fielders appeared at the Detroit Tigers Spring Training site that morning. The one was Cecil, always a welcome sight for the Tigers. In 1990 alone, he hit 51 home runs and drove in 132 runs for Detroit.
Accompanying him was his son, Prince, then 17 years old. Cecil asked if the lad could take a few swings in batting practice. The Tigers obliged. What could it hurt? Cecil was always a fine fellow. It was the first day of camp. There was time.
Within minutes it became obvious that this was more than a case of the team politely indulging a proud papa who happened to be one of their former stars. It turned out that Prince was well-named. He was the heir apparent to all that power.
Prince hit the first BP pitch out of the park. He hit seven more out of the park, including two that cleared the 410-foot mark in center field. You hear people talk about how the ball "jumps" off some hitters' bats. The ball explodes off this young man's bat.
The Tigers were more than a little impressed. "He's got good bloodlines," said then-Tigers manager Phil Garner. "He's a good kid, which you knew he would be, knowing his Daddy. And he swings the bat pretty good. His swing reminds me of his father's. He gets really good extension through the hitting zone. You were surprised at first with his father that a man that big could get that kind of extension."
Prince, who was actually named after a great-grandfather, is a little less gargantuan than his Dad. But he is a heavily muscled fellow; an even six feet tall, weighing, depending on which estimate you trust the most, 245-255 pounds. His nickname is "Tank," which is descriptive enough of his build. But he looks more fit than chunky.
When he was asked on that day in Tigers camp how his game compared to his father's, he smiled and responded: ""He tells me that he was better than me in everything."
But asked about his hitting compared to that of his father, Prince smiled again and said: "I like to make more contact."
Cecil acknowledged that his son might be a more versatile player than he was. For instance, he said, his son was much faster. Prince is a first baseman, like his father, but he is a left-handed hitter.
One thing was clear. Prince wanted to play baseball. Prince said that his Dad had been very supportive of his love for baseball, but that Cecil had not pushed him to play.
Although Prince could go to Arizona State on a baseball scholarship, he had an eye on the draft.
"I would sign if I got taken in the 158th round," he said with another smile. "But my Dad, he makes the decision on that."
Following this workout and other hitting exhibitions with other Major League teams, the scouts and front office people began making the trek to Melbourne, Fla., to see Prince Fielder play high school ball. A consensus emerged. Not only could the kid hit for power, the kid could hit, period.
The Tigers were reportedly very interested in drafting Prince. That would have made a great story. Prince himself said that he liked old Tiger Stadium better than Comerica Park. He found the new park "too big." But that all became a moot point because the Brewers were one spot ahead of the Tigers in the draft order.
The Brewers had a link of their own to the Fielder family. Bill Lajoie, Milwaukee's senior advisor-baseball operations, was formerly the general manager in Detroit.
On the other hand, Fielder plays a position where the Brewers, currently headed toward their 10th straight losing season, are actually set. First baseman Richie Sexson, with 15 home runs and 50 runs batted in through Monday, will probably be the Brewers' representative in the All-Star Game this season.
But the Brewers were drafting with "the best player available" philosophy. After seeing Prince Fielder hit the baseball that day in Lakeland, you find it difficult to imagine a better prospect, even at the No. 7 spot in the entire draft.
"We've liked him all along," said Jack Zduriencik, Brewers director of scouting. "In our estimation he was the best power hitter in the draft. But he's not just a power hitter. He's a guy that can hit."
The Brewers' also liked his pedigree. Not only is his father well-regarded throughout the game, but Prince Fielder grew up in Major League ballparks. There is little chance that he is going to be awed by the possibilities now in front of him.
Projecting the ability to hit Major League pitching from the distance of a high-school senior is part of what makes the baseball draft a fascinating, if somewhat iffy, proposition. But for those of us who were lucky enough to be in Lakeland on that February day, the stroke, the power, the composure, all produced the inescapable thought that Prince Fielder has potential that very few ever possess.
Mike Bauman is the national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.