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Desmond in the Rough

Ian Desmond is one of the last successful draft picks in Montreal Expos history. He was nabbed by the then Expos in the third round of the 2004 June draft and signed for $430,000. That would be the last draft before the Expos moved to Washington D.C.

Desmond appeared in spring training with the big league club as just a 19-year-old in 2005 and instantly started making good impressions. Then manager, Frank Robinson, said he’d be in the big leagues in a few years and Desmond even drew a few flattering Derek Jeter comparisons.

Despite these reviews Desmond struggled with his bat in the minors and battled some injuries along the way. He’s always drawn praise for his good range and plus-arm at shortstop. Desmond missed the first two months of the 2009 season recovering from surgery that removed the hamate bone from his left hand. This injury typically lingers and is known to sap power but it didn’t appear to bother Desmond.

Before 2009 Desmond shortened his swing and changed his approach at the plate. It seemed to work as he exploded onto the scene in Double-A in his return from injury. In 42 games Desmond had a .396 wOBA after a .319 mark in 2008 in 93 games a year prior at the same level.

This earned him his first promotion to Triple-A where he didn’t slow down. In 55 games he hit .354/.428/.461 (.408 wOBA). High BABIPs of .425 in AAA and .371 in AA fueled Desmond’s triple-slash lines but those can’t all be attributed to good luck. He did mash the ball harder at higher levels in the system.

In September the Nationals gave Desmond a September call up and he responded quite well. In his big league debut spanning 21 games and 82 at-bats he hit .280/.318/.561 with four homers. There his BABIP sat at just .292.

It’s worth nothing that Desmond’s strikeout rates have consistently sat in the low to mid 20 range throughout his minor league career. But in 2009 they dropped from 23.5% in Double-A to 17% in his AAA and big league stints. While we are dealing with a small sample size here the progression is still interesting and inspiring.

Baseball America recently ranked Desmond as the Nationals fourth best prospect a few months ago. Here is a portion of the glowing scouting report they have on him:


“If Desmond’s bat continues to develop, he has a chance for average or better tools across the board. His quick hands and strong forearms generate plus bat speed and average power, and he has done a good job shortening his swing and becoming more patient at the plate. At shortstop, he has good range and a 65 arm on the 20-80 scouting scale.”

Desmond is 24-years-old this year and after his success in AAA and Washington many assumed he would begin 2010 as the Nationals starting shortstop after the organization informed Cristian Guzman late last season that he would be shifting to second base in 2010. But then the Nationals signed veteran Adam Kennedy to play second and appear to have a change of heart regarding Guzman after he had shoulder surgery.

As of now Desmond would be squeezed out of a starting position with the big league club at the outset of the season. Manager Jim Riggleman has indicated that Guzman will be the starter at shortstop and Kennedy at second as long as Guzman’s healthy this spring.

The club is considering Desmond to become a utility man in the majors this season but that hasn’t been approved by everyone in the organization. Senior Advisor Davey Johnson voiced his concerns over that plan and wants Desmond to be in the starting line up.

I’d have to agree with Johnson here and would like to see Desmond in the starting line up to start the season. For what it’s worth…EVERY SINGLE projection system here at FanGraphs is projecting Desmond (looking at wRC+) to hit better than Guzman AND Kennedy this season. The Fans have him projected at an even 2.0 WAR for the 2010 season.

Hopefully Desmond is granted the opportunity to display his abilities regularly in D.C. this season but it’s likely that it occurs at some point or another this year even if he starts the season in Triple-A or on the bench due to the inferior regulars. He has the makings of an average to slightly above-average hitter (think .280/.340/.440) at the shortstop position with good defense.

Once Desmond receives the opportunity to have regular at-bats in the Nations Capital you should jump on the opportunity to grab him from the waiver wire. He has the makings to become a cheap source of solid production and could be a big help if you’re in a pinch at the shortstop position.