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Don’t look now, but here comes Ian Desmond

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When the Washington Nationals came to town in 2005, Ian Desmond was lauded as the next best thing.

Soon however the enthusiasm surrounding the shortstop dissipated and it left analysts wondering whether or not the hype surrounding him were just misplaced in his tools, or if perhaps his scouting reports were simply wishful thinking.

Desmond had tools all right. He was built on a good frame at six–foot-two, one-eighty-five, he had supreme strength, a stellar arm, and top-notch base running speed. The only problem was, it didn’t really seem like he knew how to put it all together.

Desmond joined the organization by way of the 2004 draft when the Montreal Expos took him out of high school in the third round, 84th overall. He was sent to the organization’s Gulf Coast League affiliate right away and while he didn’t flourish with the bat, his glove and athleticism created a buzz.

It only took until 2006 for him to be named the number four prospect in the now Nationals organization. Yet despite his tools he could not hit his way out of Single-A for more than a few games. Desmond batted .244/.313/.384 for Potomac in 2006, and only .264/.357/.432 at the same place in 2007.

The Nationals and many others began to write the young shortstop off, especially after a 2008 hand injury sidelined him for a good portion of the season. When he was healthy he only batted .251/.318/.406 in Harrisburg. While Desmond had learned how to field the position effectively, he still just couldn’t hit.

In 2008 Baseball Prospectus wrote:

“Desmond has been touted as the next big thing longer than Gretchen Mol, and with results that are as reliably disappointing. However, last year’s progress at High-A Potomac is encouraging, even though it was his third pass through the circuit. Desmond is filling out, and his physical gifts are delivering better results in the field. He’s not the blue-chipper some expected, but he’s making slow progress towards becoming a decent shortstop in a world in which people are relying on punchless types such as Adam Everett and John McDonald.”

Going into 2009 the Nationals had already found another future phenom shortstop in their system, a 19-year-old, Esmailyn Gonzalez. As an afterthought, Desmond was send back to Harrisburg to perhaps someday develop into Gonzalez’s back up. But then when Esmailyngate hit the Nats hard in spring of 2009, and the truth came out that the future star shortstop was a fake.

The Nationals were lost again concerning their future up the middle. Cristian Guzman was aging rapidly and ‘the future,’ Esmailyn Gonzalez, was five years older than they he had originally claimed. Yet while the front office scouts, and the stat-oriented analysts desperately searched for an answer, oft-knocked (yes by this blog) Pat Corrales had a steady hand. In his ancient wisdom he saw something in a young Double-A shortstop, Ian Desmond.

“He has grown up,” Corrales said. “We he first arrived in Spring Training [in 2005], he was a young kid, but he has matured. He has become a leader. When I was in Harrisburg, they didn’t know how to play without him. When he wasn’t there, they were lost. When he came back, it was all good.”

Corrales was right, and so far in 2009 Desmond, still only 23, has finally showed the hitting potential that many have waited for over the years. Desmond’s 2009 output:

 

  • Harrisburg-42 G, 6 HR, 13 SB, .306/.372/.494
  • Syracuse- 40G, 0 HR, 6 SB, .336/.418/.422

 

If the young shortstop continues at this pace, he should be ready for a call up in September when the rosters expand. If the Nationals are smart, they’ll give him another half-season at least in the minors after that to let his bat fully develop. If they do, he could be 100 percent MLB ready by 2011, when Guzman’s contract expires, Jordan Zimmerman returns from Tommy John, and Stephen Strasburg prepares for his first Cy Young.

What’s exciting about Desmond is while he is hitting for contact now, scouts are hopeful that his strength will eventually turn his contact into power. Often once a young strong batter becomes more comfortable hitting for contact, that’s when he can develop power. This is also why it may be crucial he stays in the minors at least a little bit longer next season.

Baseball Prospectus put it best in an article this week:

“This just might be an example of a genuine late bloomer. A third-round pick in 2004, Desmond’s tools and athleticism has had many projecting him as the Nationals’ shortstop of the future for years, but there was one big problem with that: he didn’t hit. Showing a much better approach this year in terms of both plate discipline and a focus on contact over power, Desmond hit .306/.372/.494 at Double-A this year. He’s batting .406 in his last ten Triple-A games, raising his overall line to .328/.413/.400 in the International League. He should be up in September, and given that he doesn’t turn 24 for another month, he’s still a prospect.”

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