Is Washington Nationals' Shortstop Ian Desmond Still "The Future" At Short?

Ian Desmond's emergence at the Major League level effectively ended the Cristian Guzman era at short in Washington. Desmond beat Guzman out for the starting job before the 2010 season, after having made his debut the previous Fall, hitting seven doubles and four HR's in 21 games after a September call-up. Before he made his Major League debut in late '09, Desmond had a combined .330/.401/.477 slash line with 24 doubles and seven HR's in 97 games at two stops in the Nats' system with Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse. Desmond struggled through the first half of 2010, however, and was at a particularly low point in his rookie season after a month of June in which he'd put up a .222/.259/.309 slash line and struggled defensively as was expected for a first-year infielder who'd committed over 30 errors a year in his 6 seasons in the Nats' system...

It was at this point that 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 Nationals continued to stick with the young shortstop who appeared as if wasn't ready for the Majors? 

"Ian Desmond is one of the brightest young shortstop prospects in the major leagues today," the Nationals' GM responded, "...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 picked up in the second half of the 2010 campaign, but, as impressive as it was with the 24-going-on-25-year-old infielder hitting .283/.320/.390 after the All-Star break, and really turning it on during a .347/.385/.465 stretch in August over which Desmond had 35 hits in 28 games and 101 at bats, in most people's minds, that success at the plate was overshadowed by Desmond's league-leading 34 errors.

Washington Times' sports writer Dan Daly examined all the Des-E's last winter, though, in an article entitled, "Are 34 Errors Really That Big A Deal?", and concluded that the total wasn't as bad as it looked:

"16 of Desmond’s 34 errors – almost half – resulted in no runs being scored. The pitcher had to face an extra batter, but the Nationals got out of the inning unscathed.

"The last error he made that contributed to an unearned run came on July 29 – the 102nd game. In the last 60 games he committed 10 errors, but none of them had any effect on the scoreboard.

"His errors cost the Nats perhaps three games, and only one actually caused the winning run to score (May 15 at Colorado)."

Heading into the new season, the Nationals' General Manager was asked, during an interview on the MLB Network Radio show Power Alley what adjustments he thought Desmond needed to make to transition from prospect to everyday Major Leaguer. "Ian needs to be more of a consistent major league player," the Nats' GM explained, "I think he's passed the test in my mind of 'Is he a major league player?' I'm comfortable saying he's a major league shortstop. I think he's comfortable in his mind that he belongs in the major leagues. Which I think [is] a big step in a player's development."

"[Desmond] possesses terrific physical attributes as a shortstop," Rizzo continued later in his response "Range wise, he gets to balls that few shortstops get to. He can throw the ball from anywhere on the field and throw you out. He's got a cannon for an arm. He runs well. He's got some pop. He learned the strike zone much better as the year went on. He learned to how to put balls in his pocket and not make a silly error later on in the season. So I think he's going to take that and grow from that and I think take it to the next level..." 

That next level has proven hard to reach for Desmond. Through 31 games, Desmond's committed an NL leading eight errors (tied w/ Ryan Therioit - StL) in spite of the Nationals' attempts to improve the team defensively by adding Adam LaRoche at first. Desmond's .946 fld% is second-worst amongst NL shortstops, his -16.4 UZR/150 (sss acknowledged) after the first 31 games is the second-worst in the National League ahead of only Theriot, and his .217/.250/.383 slash line has him jumping all over the Nats' order as they attempt to find him a spot in the lineup.

The Nats aren't sitting still, however, as FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal reported this morning in a section of article entitled, "Firing Hendry would be wrong move", which is subtitled, "Bowa: Offering A Helping Hand", as the Nationals have enlisted the help of "former major league shortstop, coach and manager" Larry Bowa to try to solve the issues plaguing the now 25-year-old shortstop. "Desmond has a tendency to wait on grounders and rely too much on his arm," Mr. Rosenthal writes:

"'Guys have such great arms, they lay back on balls — and this guy has a cannon,' says Bowa, who is now an analyst for MLB Network. 'He catches ’em flat-footed. He catches ’em deep. He doesn’t understand the mechanics of coming and getting the ball.'"

Mr. Bowa's advice? "'His mentality is that he wants to turn every double play,' Mr. Bowa told the FOXSports.com writer, "'That’s how you get a lot of errors. I’m not saying he’s not thinking. He’s just being too aggressive on every play.'"

While there's likely nothing new in that advice, that the Nats' GM himself hasn't said before, maybe hearing it from another voice and one with as much of a track record as Mr. Bowa will finally get the message through to Desmond. How confident are you that Desmond will be the Nats' shortstop when they in two or three years, when the team seems to believe they'll be ready to compete? Are you in the "flip Danny Espinosa to short" camp? What are you more worried about now, his defense or his approach at the plate? Do you see signs that Desmond's turning it around? What does the future hold for Ian Desmond?

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