Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Green Diamonds: Delino Deshields Jr, 2B, Lexington Legends (Class A, South Atlantic League)

Name: Delino Diaab DeShields
Bats: R Throws: R
HT: 5'9” WT: 210
DOB: August 16th, 1992, in Gaston, Georgia
Drafted: Houston Astros in the 1st round (8th overall) of the 2010 Draft.


STATS:

2011 SEASON: .220 BA, 9 HR, 48 RBI, 30 SB, 52 BB, 118 SO, 17 2B, 2 3B in 541 PA
2012 SEASON: .279 BA, 6 HR, 38 RBI, 62 SB, 54 BB, 81 SO, 16 2B, 3 3B in 394 PA

That's not chalk dust. That's smoke. 
Introduction: Anyone who had the chance to see the then 18-year-old Delino Deshields Jr. take the field last year could probably tell that there was a world of talent in him waiting to be realized. The numbers had not reflected this, however, and there were times in which he seemed utterly lost. Now in his third season in the Houston Astros organization, he has shown dramatic progress this season, thus far, in more than just his on-field performance.

Batting: Deshields takes a stance slightly wider than shoulder width, keeping his head in and his hands back until seemingly the last possible second. He has always taken a very short path to the ball with high hands, yet he generates surprising pop despite this. He shows quick hands, often split-second reflexes and there is no extraneous movement in his stance of which to speak. He takes his place in the box in a deliberate manner, sets his feet early and attempts to move him off the plate typically prove futile; he shows no fear. There is no leg kick or foot lift, and while a little more loading up may help him generate enough forward momentum to bring his swing plane down a bit flatter. Nevertheless, he is continuing to improve in making consistent contact. One very noticeable thing he is doing this year that he failed to do in the last is he takes the first pitch virtually every time. Last year, it seemed he would swing at anything near the plate in any count. This year, however, he's not likely to swing unless he gets a strike. This is, according to “unidentified sources” (sounds way more Spy-vs-Spy than it is), a result of input and strongly-suggested pointers from Houston batting instructors in the past off-season. Regardless of the reason behind it, Deshields has easily been as consistent in his approach as any of his teammates. This has boosted his walks and helped to get him into better hitting counts, and his batting average is reflective of this. He still strikes out a bit too often and appears to press with runners in scoring position, and while he has a short swing he often doesn't keep his bat in the hitting zone long enough. In this, as in all other facets of his game, it is important to consider the fact that he doesn't even turn 20 for another month. In terms of small ball, he is better than average with the bunt, and shows definite potential to become a fine push-bunter. He can be called upon to drop one down on a frequent basis without worry that he'll lay a bad one. Without a current time to first measurement for him I would still feel confident in saying he's sub-4.0 to first on the bunt. More than once I've seen him simply dart past catchers fortunate enough to get to the bunt quickly. He has plus pull-side power at this level, but with his pronounced uppercut swing he isn't taking advantage of his power-speed package in terms of hitting to the opposite field, thereby losing out on recording perhaps twice the number of doubles and triples he has tallied so far. He generates considerable loft and distance but would benefit from a flatter swing (as noted above). He may consider starting with his hands back further in his stance or incorporating a short leg lift in order to generate more line drive swings.

Two the hard way. (Pictured: Deshields not flying into CF)
Fielding: This is still a significant problem area. While he seems comfortable when he comes set to await the play, there are many times in which he is caught either flat-footed or on his heels when the ball reaches him. He has more than enough arm for second base, but his throws are too often made from an unbalanced or poorly leveraged position. His footwork is progressing but is far from ideal for a position which requires more agility than Deshields has as yet shown. He gets down on the ball easily and makes the routine plays and will occasionally surprise with an off-balance throw that hits its target, owing to his significant upper body strength. He could stand to be a bit less stiff in his actions, but that should come along with time. He seems to play his position with more vigor and assertiveness this year, likely owing to his already extensive (for an 18-year-old) experience in Class A ball. He seems more at-ease in the field, in general. He makes the turn reasonably quickly on the double play and always stands fast and fearless when runners try to knock him off the bag on the throw to first. The last runner I saw who attempted this was unable to move him even an inch after hooking his right ankle on the slide. While all this is true, he does often make his throws flat-footed (again, as noted above), and while he has the strength to pull it off it's not an advisable approach to gunning down a runner at first on the DP. He has this year, as last, made a considerable amount of errors, but many of these could be attributed to youth and inexperience at the position. Of note, there were many times in 2011 when he seemed noticeably uncomfortable in the field, and the idea of moving him to CF has been bandied about from time to time. He would certainly have the speed, quickness and arm to play in center, and the Class A Legends have had a bit of a logjam in the infield on several occasions, so this may be a reality for him sooner rather than later. Also worth noting, he is already considerably well-developed in terms of his muscle mass, but with a frame his size he should try to avoid adding much more to it if he wants to remain agile enough for the infield or fast enough for center. Heavy musculature in a small frame makes a player play a stiff game, not to mention the added risks if he doesn't also remain flexible (as with any other player, frankly).

Baserunning: Deshields has been far more relaxed on the base-paths this year, and it shows. He's already doubled his SB total from last year in 150 fewer PA, so that in itself speaks volumes. Throw in the SB% (62 in 73 attempts; 84.9 SB%) and watch how free and easy he moves between bases, and you have a teenager running seemingly at will. He's easily on pace for over 100 steals, given his current pace, and if he's not promoted this year he'll definitely break that barrier. In terms of the different facets of his game, this is the area in which he has run roughshod over catchers older and more experienced than him. The real test, of course, will be when he's sent up the chain and has to deal with stronger arms behind the plate. They may slow him down a bit, but he certainly has the ability to compensate for this. As things currently stand, I can see him stealing 30-40 in the bigs. With growth and maturity, this peak total could easily jump substantially. Deshields is not afraid to take the extra base but already has the foresight to avoid taking unnecessary risks and doesn't often try to stretch a single recklessly.

Intangibles: This is a hard section for me when it comes to Deshields. Some who saw him play in 2011 may have noticed what appeared to be a significant lack of interest in the game going on around him and an, at times, obviously flippant attitude to his play, in general. Whether this was due to an 18-year-old kid being overwhelmed by the competition, his having difficulty adjusting to or accepting the expectations thrust upon him by the organization and his high selection in the draft, or perhaps his even being depressed and discouraged by his performance in his first year of Class A ball, it was quite obvious that his head just wasn't in the game, sometimes. I often note the last game I saw him in in 2011 in which he dragged his bat to the plate in what I considered to be a petulant display of indifference as the best example I have of his attitude toward the game at the time and, consequently, his teammates as well. As I said before, I have no idea what was going through his head...he may have suffered a loss in his family, might have been dealing with a lot of inner turmoil adjusting to life as a newly christened top prospect and, by way of his draft slot, life as a millionaire on top of that...who knows better than the kid, himself? So I try to reserve judgment on all that, especially since his attitude this year has done a complete 180. He is assertive in his play, he is far more sure in many aspects of his game, and he even seems to be laughing more. That's the part that gives me the most optimism, frankly. It shows his comfort level has increased dramatically, and his play will continue to improve, owing in no small part to this. I now consider him a potential field captain, at some point in his near future.

Overall: The Astros and their fans have every reason to expect great things from Deshields, and also every reason to expect that he will continue to make the adjustments necessary to succeed and thrive in whatever level he happens to reach. He has a power-speed combo which could pay huge dividends for the Astros in the future, and he looks to me like he'll be comparable to Craig Biggio when he reaches the majors, only with a little less power. I see him more in CF than at 2B, but he could even end up at third with his athleticism, though he'd need a little more arm strength for that.

OK, he'll run so let's hold him on pretty clo...wait, what?
The physical gifts are obvious, and now that he's growing beyond the early pressure of being a 1st round pick in what has been, until very recently, a drastically understocked farm system, the results will show up in the box scores. Make no mistake: this kid is truly gifted. He is often a real joy to watch on the bases and he can be the hero at the plate, on top of that. Go see him play the game and tell me what you think; I'm guessing you'll come to the same conclusion. 


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