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What to do with Ian Desmond?

In regard to shortstop Ian Desmond, Nationals Manager Jim Riggleman can make one concrete guarantee. "He's going to play a lot of baseball one way or another," Riggleman said. "He's going to be playing every day at Triple A or he's going to be getting enough playing time with us. We're not going to slow down his development."

The question the Nationals have about one month to figure out: What's the best outcome for both the team and for Desmond? The answer could be a number of options.

The possibility regarded as most likely for the start of the regular season seems to be Desmond, 24, playing shortstop every day at Class AAA Syracuse. Riggleman said Desmond playing only shortstop is "probably the most likely scenario." He later added that Desmond at shortstop is "kind of the way we're leaning."

But that is clearly not the only option. Riggleman wants Desmond playing, but he left the door open for Desmond to receive regular playing time to become a big league utility player, perhaps backing up Cristian Guzman while playing other roles.

Desmond has played shortstop in 630 of his 631 career minor league games, but the Nationals may try to add to his versatility in order to give him a better chance to make the roster as a utility man. Last year, Desmond played 23 major league games as a call-up, appearing once as a right fielder and five times as a second baseman. Desmond said the Nationals have yet to speak with him about playing second this year, but outfield remains in play.

"They told me today that the first full squad game, I'm going to start at short and then go to the outfield," Desmond said today. "Besides that, I haven't really heard anything."

For the future, it might make the most sense to keep Desmond at Syracuse and let him develop into a full-time, major league shortstop. Guzman's contract is up after this year, and Desmond makes for a logical next-in-line choice.

For this season, it might make the most sense to put Desmond in the major leagues as a utility player. Behind Guzman, he is a more athletic version of Eric Bruntlett, who gave the Phillies a meager 22 OPS+ in 105 at-bats last year. Plus, the Nationals have no guarantee Desmond will become their future shortstop.

"If we absolutely knew that, then that would make sense to actually" play him every day in the minors, Riggleman said. "But until we know that's going to be the case, I think we want to have his athleticism be able to help the club in a few different ways."

Then there is the least-considered option: Guzman is making $8 million this season, he is the incumbent, and it seems nearly certain he'll be the starting shortstop coming out of camp. But what if Desmond simply beats him out?

Guzman punched up an 83 OPS+ last season, walking 16 times on his way to a .306 on-base percentage. Meanwhile, splitting the year between Class AA Harrisburg and Syracuse, Desmond went .330/.401/.477. In his limited September experience, Desmond had a 128 OPS+ in 89 plate appearances.

"How do I hope it ends up?" Desmond said. "I hope I hit .400 and end camp winning a starting job. I don't really have any expectations. I want to make the team. I want to be a part of this. That's about it. I want to do whatever I can to make the team. If not, I'll keep on working hard and I'll get there at some point.

"In my head, I'm making this team. I'm going to be up here. If something else happens beside that, then at that point I'm going to have to re-evaluate. Right now, in my head, I'm on the team. Keep all the negative stuff out of my head, see what happens."

By Adam Kilgore  |  February 27, 2010; 5:21 PM ET
 
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Comments

Over the past couple of seasons, it became difficult at times to watch Guzman at short and Ronnie Belliard at second TRY to play defense.

I love them both, but both seemed in slo-motion as they went for balls hit up the middle.

I look forward to the day that Desmond and Danny Espinosa plug the porous middle-of-the-infield defense (with Desmond taking over at second).

If Desmond can stop throwing balls away, he can be a plus defender, the way Espinosa is now.

Posted by: rushfari | February 27, 2010 6:45 PM | Report abuse

It's only been 2 days, but AK's already gotten me not missing the food critic.

Posted by: 1stBaseCoach | February 27, 2010 6:51 PM | Report abuse

I am just glad that AK no longer means Austin Kearns.

I don't want to figure out if Desmond can be a utility player. We don't need another Kory Kasto experiment. If he is not good enough to be a major league shortstop, don't waste too much effort on him. It is better to put him into AAA and let him hone his defense, and earn a trip back.

With Bowden gone, Guzman is almost certainly gone next year, as well. Let's have Desmond and Espinosa try to prove they are next year's shortstop, and if neither is, get a better one somehow before 2011.

+1/2St.

Posted by: kevincostello | February 27, 2010 7:36 PM | Report abuse

Hope all is well with willingham and his wife and baby; ladson says he will be out for several days for "personal reasons." God knows, Josh needs some good things from life after the death of his brother

Posted by: swanni | February 27, 2010 7:36 PM | Report abuse


Late evening Post-of-the-Day nomination:

I am just glad that AK no longer means Austin Kearns.

Posted by: kevincostello

You speak for all of us on that score, Kevin

Posted by: Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me | February 27, 2010 8:21 PM | Report abuse

baseball season...ahhh, summers right around the corner....

Posted by: joerutgens72 | February 27, 2010 8:29 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, Joe, right after Tuesday's snowstorm!

Posted by: Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me | February 27, 2010 8:49 PM | Report abuse

So, there are six different stat-projection systems I know how to find: Bill James, Chone, Marcel the Monkey, Fangraphs' brand-new fan projections, ZiPS, and whatever CBS Sportsline uses for fantasy baseball. Five of the six have Desmond posting both a better OBP and a better slugging percentage than Guzman in 2010. (The sixth, ZiPS, gives Desmond an 8-point edge in OBP but has him 21 points lower in SLG.)

I only mention this because it's something I was curious about, and I was a bit surprised by the result. I'm not advocating anything.

Posted by: Scooter_ | February 27, 2010 10:19 PM | Report abuse

Alumni News:

FLoP signs one-year for $1 million with St. Louis.

I'm sure he'll have a great attitude all season with that contract. This was after he fired Scott Boras two weeks ago. Yes, FLoP fired Scott Boras. Sure he's losing a lot of sleep over that loss.

Posted by: Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me | February 27, 2010 10:37 PM | Report abuse

The thing that concerns me about Desmond is that whenever I've seen him talking about his defense, he does not acknowledge that he has a problem. Now, maybe that's just positive thinking taking over, and I recognize confidence is an important part of success for athletes at all levels. But if he doesn't recognize that he has serious issues, he's not likely to get better. Given his offensive output, assuming that holds up, he would not have to be a great shortstop to take Christian Guzman's job away from him.

Posted by: markfromark | February 27, 2010 11:21 PM | Report abuse

of course, it could be that he knows it better than anybody, and he's just keeping his own counsel in the press.

"Cliches. You'll have to learn them, you'll have to remember them."

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | February 27, 2010 11:55 PM | Report abuse

I hope they leave the kid in Syracuse for seasoning. A year from now he'll be ready for the Desmond declaration:

"All right Mr. De Mille, I'm ready for my close-up."

In a couple of years it will be interesting to see who's the odd man out --Desmond, Espinosa or Kobernus.

Posted by: Drew8 | February 28, 2010 12:05 AM | Report abuse

good one, Drew8!

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | February 28, 2010 8:32 AM | Report abuse

Desmond's defensive problems are with his throwing, which is usually psychological. Especially when you throw it 10 feet over the first baseman's head. It's not just a matter of footwork, because it seems like he can make two identical defensive plays, yet one throw goes into the stands and the other goes right to the first baseman. To acknowledge it is a sign of weakness for some people, especially when you're young. Maybe he's just too immature to handle it. When you're in the 30 error range, you've got a big problem. Looks like he can hit a little bit though, I wouldn't give up on, even though he's going to Syracuse.


>The thing that concerns me about Desmond is that whenever I've seen him talking about his defense, he does not acknowledge that he has a problem. Now, maybe that's just positive thinking taking over, and I recognize confidence is an important part of success for athletes at all levels. But if he doesn't recognize that he has serious issues, he's not likely to get better. Given his offensive output, assuming that holds up, he would not have to be a great shortstop to take Christian Guzman's job away from him.

Posted by: markfromark

Posted by: Brue | February 28, 2010 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Remember the days when Kory Casto was our top prospect, things have changed.

Posted by: peteywheatstraw | February 28, 2010 1:51 PM | Report abuse

Washingtonians do not easily forget Guzman's atrocious 2005 introductory season, when he batted a sad.219/.260/.574, so we tend to have a negative bias. But, lets take an objective look at the Guzman vs. Desmond "dilemma" using projections from www.fangraphs.com.

According to Bill James, the father of modern baseball statistical analysis, Guzman will hit .282/.313/.698 and Desmond will hit .282/.338/.770 in 2010. Defensively, Guzman had a 2009 UZR of -2.3, and Desmond had a 2009 UZR of -0.4. Desmond is a better player, so I don't think Guzman deserves to start at short.

If the Nats brass do decide to start Guzman at short to justify the $8 million Guzman will make this year or some other utilitarian value analysis, I would rather see Desmond getting four at bats per day and improving his glove at short in AAA instead of an infrequent MLB experience at LF, RF, 3B, etc. If.. correction...when Guzman starts having bunion issues in July, Ian Desmond will be ready. If Kennedy goes down, Desmond will be ready. If more than two of those three go down, Mike Morse is capable of stepping in. The beauty of the "dilemma" is that the Nationals are deeper up the middle.

I think Nats management is ready to nurture their future instead of justifying the past. I'll put money down that they go with Desmond starting at short with the "big boys." Heres to middle infielder depth and the end of the Guzman era in sight.

Posted by: unclebuck1 | February 28, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

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