Ian Desmond didn't enjoy the experience of watching the Philadelphia Phillies clinch the NL East in front of a crowd of boisterous out-of-town fans in Nationals Park with an 8-0 win over Washington late in the 2010 season, and as MLB.com's BIll Ladson reported that night in a post game article entitled, "Nats unable to keep Phils from East title", the Nationals' 25-year-old first-year shortstop had no problem expressing his displeasure with the whole evening at the park:
""It was kind of embarrassing. Everyone in the stadium is clapping against you and you are at home. It's not really where you want to be," Desmond said. "I wanted to go out there to win that game and show them we can play with them. We took two out of three from the Braves. We played them well all year. [And now], 8-0 is kind of ridiculous."
"He's basically saying the truth," Nats' Skipper Jim Riggleman said the next afternoon when asked about the vocal rookie infielder's comments, "As far as him being a rookie. At this point he's really a sophomore now. He's got over 500 at bats, his rookie status is over. He has every right to speak up, he plays hard...When you play hard every day, when you play with intensity and passion, you can speak up. And I love it. But the number one thing that I'm pleased about is the guy's just a total gamer. I hesitate to compare names, because the other guy I'm going to mention has accomplished so much, but I can say that speaking to my good friend Jim Tracy (ed. note - "Riggleman spent 2001-'04 in LA as the Dodger's bench coach under Tracy."), and other people in Colorado, this is what they said [Troy] Tulowitzki was when he walked in the door in Colorado. He became the leader on that ballclub in Colorado."
Desmond, an '04 3rd Round pick made by former Expos' and Nats' Scouting Director Dana Brown during Montreal's last draft, has been a favorite prospect of each of the last two General Managers. The former DC GM Jim Bowden, right before he rather famously compared Ian Desmond to the Yankees' living legend Derek Jeter, joked with the franchise's former scouting director, as recorded in Washington Post writer Barry Svrulga's 9/9/05 article "Teenager Desmond Stars In Spring Talent Show", saying Mr. Brown had made a mistake in selecting the then-18-year-old infielder out of Sarasota High School in Florida:
"Brown was shocked. 'Why?' he asked.
"'Because you took him in the third round instead of the first round,' Bowden replied."
Desmond beat out a recovering Cristian Guzman for the starting job this Spring and seemed poised to live up to the expectations he'd built up during his strong September the previous season when he hit 7 doubles and 4 HR's in 21 games after his late-season call-up. Desmond had hit a combined .330/.401/.477 with 24 doubles and 7 HR's in 97 games at two stops in the Nats' system with Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse before making his MLB debut. But he struggled through the first half of 2010 before Desmond really turned around his first full season, and was at his lowest point production-wise following a month of June in which he'd hit .222/.259/.309 and struggled with errors in the field as had been predicted for the first-year infielder who'd committed over 30 errors a year in his 6 seasons in the Nats' system, when current D.C. GM Mike Rizzo was asked in one of his Q&A sessions with fans at his MASNSports.com blog entitled, "Nats fans chat with the GM" why the green rookie who, "...who can't field or hit. [Makes] Too many errors," and, "...is just not ready," remained at short?:
Mike Rizzo: "I thoroughly disagree with your assessment that Ian cannot hit or field. Ian Desmond is one of the brightest young shortstop prospects in the major leagues today, as exemplified by his major league ranking of second in UZR (range factor). In addition, with the exception of Troy Tulowitzki, Ian has successfully gotten more ground balls on defense than any shortstop in the majors, and his 34 RBIs ranks fourth on the Nationals team. Ian is one of the highest ranked rookie players for 2010."
Desmond's offensive production in the second half, impressive as it was with the 24-going-on-25-year-old infielder hitting .283/.320/.390 after the All-Star game, including a .347/.385/.465 stretch in August during which he had 35 hits in 28 games and 101 at bats, was overshadowed in a lot of the coverage by the fact that Desmond struggled at the plate late in the year and finished his first full major league season with a league-leading 34 errors. In his late-season assessment of the Nats' 2010 campaign entitled, "A look at Nats' roster", MLB.com's Bill Ladson wrote that, "While people outside the organization look at Desmond's Major League-leading 33 errors," (he'd commit one more E before it was over for 34):
"...the Nationals focus on something else: Desmond is a winner and he takes losses hard. Desmond, 25, is capable of being a team leader. He is not afraid to speak his mind."
And anyway, as the D.C. GM had said during a television appearance on MASN, "'These errors [were] not unexpected. We figured that he was going to make somewhere between 35-38 errors this year because it's typical for a young, rangy shortstop to make a lot of errors," so Desmond, apparently, exceeded expectations, and as any Nats fan who watched Desmond knows, 10 or 11 of those E's were made on plays very few shortstops get to, and as the season went on Desmond held on to some balls he'd have previously thrown away. "We feel that those errors will be cut drastically next year by just learning the speed of the game," Mr. Rizzo said, "...the speed of the major league hitters and the baserunners, and when you have a guy that has such a strong arm like Desmond, with such great range it leads to errors often because you're going to think that you can make every play, every throw...'"
That being said, the general manager wasn't ready to hand Desmond the shortstop job next year. Mr. Rizzo told Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell, in an article entitled, "For Washington Nationals' real fans, September call-ups hold much promise", before the Nats' '08 3rd Round pick shortstop Danny Espinosa exploded on the scene in D.C., that the Nats', "...stat people and our scouts both think that Desmond now has the best range of any shortstop in baseball, even better than [Troy] Tulowitzki," so that it would, "'...take a lot to get that kind of range off of shortstop.'" Mr. Rizzo also told MASN hosts Bob Carpenter and Ray Knight, however, that "nothing is set in stone" and both Desmond and Espinosa will have to earn their middle infield jobs next Spring.
Washington Examiner and MASNSports.com columnist Phil Wood quoted a scout in a recent article entitled, "Scouts' take on 2010 season", who said that, "If [Ian] Desmond can halve his errors and [Danny] Espinosa learns a little plate discipline, Washington will be strong up-the-middle for many moons." Nats' Skipper Jim Riggleman told the Washington Post's Thomas Boswell in a late September article entitled, "Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond - the right combination?" that in his mind it was clear, "'Desmond is going to be our shortstop,' Riggleman said flatly this week," and Mr. Boswell told anyone who doubted Desmond's skills to go, "Look up elite middle infielders and compare their early stats to Desmond's career numbers so far: .276 with 54 extra-base hits and 76 RBI in 586 at-bats, plus 17 steals. Robin Yount took seven years to get above that level."
A Jeter, Tulowitzki or Yount-type?...That's high praise, but as former Nats' Skipper Frank Robinson told the WaPost's Barry Svrluga all the way back in 2005, "'I'm telling you: His instincts are better than some guys I've seen play the game for 20 years.'" Let's hope all this praise doesn't got to Desmond's head. With Desmond and Espinosa up the middle and Ryan Zimmerman at third, two-thirds of the Nats' infield is set for the next few years. Now about that first base job...