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."
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