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Move Over Derek Jeter, Here Comes Ian Desmond

[January 20th] "Jim Bowden, the general manager of the Washington Nationals, picked up his cell phone earlier this week and punched in the speed dial for Dana Brown, his scouting director. Bowden wanted to discuss Ian Desmond, a shortstop the Nationals brought into big league camp after taking him in the third round of last year's draft. "Dana," Bowden said. "You made a mistake when you drafted Desmond." Brown was shocked. "Why?" he asked. "Because you took him in the third round instead of the first round," Bowden replied.

So went the beginning of Barry Svrluga's March 9th article regarding the Nationals' "out-of-nowhere" shortstop Ian Desmond. Desmond, 20, was one of the pleasant surprises of the Nationals' first spring training, batting .306 (11-36) and made several spectacular plays defensively. Of course, there was no chance that Desmond was going to make the team, but he let team officials know that he was going to be a force in the Nationals' future. "It may be a problem" said a concerned Bowen last summer, "We have an all-star shortstop signed for four years, and Ian will be ready long before that." Well, at least Cristian Guzman's play is making his "blocking" Ian Desmond less of a problem.

The raves about Desmond's play aren't based upon his two-year professional career. Playing the equivalent of a full major league season for the Gulf Coast Nationals, Savannah and Potomac, Desmond's numbers look like this: runs [81] -- hits [144] -- doubles [28] -- triples [4] -- homers [7] -- rbi's [52] -- stolen bases [30] -- average [.244] -- on-base percentage [.296] -- slugging average [.339]. Some of those numbers are down-right Guzman-like. Bowden certainly isn't looking at these stats and saying that Desmond is a first-rounder.

Ian Desmond is one of those players whose talent and ability is way ahead of his production. Bowden and the rest of the Nationals' management team doesn't see what he's doing now but rather what he'll be able to do in the future. He's fast. He's sure of himself in the field. He has speed and will have 20-home run power. And he's only 21.

Desmond will start his 2006 season at 'AA' Harrisburg, and may end the season in New Orleans. Last season's numbers didn't warrant a mid-season callup to high-'A' Potomac, and his numbers probably won't warrant a callup to 'AAA' New Orleans this year, but it's probably going to happen anyway. I think Bowden believes that Ian Desmond is the type of player who can mature in the major leagues while helping his team win. Robin Yount was one of those type of players; Ian Desmond might be another. A word that many use to describe the young shortstop is "toolsy," a word that describes a type of player that we all know makes Bowden lose sight of reality (remember the Alfonso Soriano trade??).

How good will Desmond be? Well, Phillies' scout Eddie Thompson says that he has an upside similar to that of Derek Jeter. Of course, I haven't seen him play yet, but from what I can glean from those who have, he's going to be a great one.

The Nationals might have one of the best young infields in the major leagues in a few years, with Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond leading the way.

All this, and he likes Washington too. "I'm very proud to be a National" he told CapitolDugout.com in December. How wonderful. Maybe he could teach Alfonso Soriano a thing or two about being a decent human being.

A better comparison to Desmond would be Omar Vizquel. Assuming he works on his hitting like Vizquel did. Vizquel was all glove as he worked his way through the minors, and developed an ability to hit as he progressed. Mind you this is not a bad thing, defense gets you to the majors. But a bat keeps you there. Desmond needs to seriously work on his control of the strike zone (155K/44BB in his minor league career). If he is struggling with the strikeouts now, he's going to face even tougher pitching as he progresses to Harrisburg where there are pitchers who understand how to attack hitters.

I'm not saying he's going to be a failure, but you really need to have realistic expectations. If Desmond can learn to control the strike zone, bunt for hits, and bump his ability to get on base up into at least the 330s, he could be a solid contributor.

I would just be wary with the comaprisons to Jeter and Yount.
Well, the Jeter comparison was more hyperbole than reality. Of course, no way does Desmond appear to be Derek Jeter reincarnate. However, I do think that he's quite a step above Omar Vizquel.

At this stage in his career, its difficult to tell if he'll produce at the level you forsee, or at the level I thin he'll attain. I think he's already proven he'll have more power than Vizquel. What he hasn't shown is bat control and a major league "batters eye."

The "Move over Derek Jeter"part was simply my way of saying that Desmond's upside is high. If he ends up being a .275-15-60 type of guy with 30 steals and a .360 obp, then I'll be happy. I still think, however, that he has the capacity to come close to .300-20-80 if he learns the strike zone.

That said, thank you Bian for the respectful way that you disagreed with me. If only our political brethren would learn from us on the proper way to se things diferently.

When I was a kid, the Senators had a prospect by the name of Tom Grieve (Ben Grieve's dad). He was supposed to be the Senators first true homegrown star player, but besides hitting 20 homers one year for the Rangers, never did much in the bigs other than be the Rangers' GM a few years ago. You just never know how a kid is going to pan out. The Dodgers drafted Mike Piazza in like the 4000th round as a favor to his godfather, Tommy LaSorda. He's a sure hall-of-famer.

You just never know ...
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