Former No. 1 pick DeShields honing his skills in Lexington
When Delino DeShields Jr. was taken as the Astros’ first pick in the 2010 draft, he was an outfielder — a high school center fielder who had a little experience playing third base and no familiarity with second.
DeShields was elated to be taken in the first round, and then felt slightly confused when he found out the Astros took him as a second baseman. “I said, ‘Why is that?'” he said, laughing at the memory. “Now, it’s all second base.”
Draft picks don’t get to pick what position they play. They go where their teams tell them. DeShields signed late in 2010, played 18 games in the outfield and was told then from there on out, he was going to be a second baseman. “Don’t even try to go to the outfield,” DeShields remembered them telling him. “Don’t bring your outfield glove here, because you’re not going to be out there.”
The transition started during Instructional ball that fall and continued in earnest during Spring Training earlier this year. Before and after games, he was by himself on the backfields of the Astros’ spring complex, practicing, practicing, practicing. He had a few instructors looking after him, including Astros special assistant Matt Galante, who 20 years ago took on the daunting task of converting Craig Biggio from catcher to second base.
The tutoring sessions were relentless then, and that tradition apparently continues today. Galante had DeShields work with the same flat ping-pong type glove that Biggio used, although these days, it’s softer than the hard pad Biggio used.
The transition is an ongoing project, but after a couple of not-so-great games, DeShields, now the starting second baseman for the Class A Lexington Legends, started to take to the new position.
“It was rough at first,” he said. “But I got used to it and settled down a little bit.”
Legends manager Rodney Linares first saw DeShields play in Instructional League. He saw a very raw defensive player, and it was the consensus of the staff that this kid probably was going to struggle in the early-going. They were right.
“The first three games of the season, he had six or seven errors,” Linares said. “After that, I think he’s had eight or nine. He was Defensive Player of the Month for two months. He’s just been outstanding.”
It’s easy to place enormous expectations on young players who were drafted high. It’s also easy to forget just how young these players are. DeShields was all of 17 when he was drafted, and now, in his first full professional season, he’s still a week shy of his 19th birthday. He was drafted because of his superior raw athleticism. He was a high school standout in both football and baseball, lauded for his blazing speed and quick bat with the ability to hit line drives consistently.
Now, it’s just a matter of waiting for it to all come together. DeShields is not on the cusp of the big leagues — don’t expect a jump to Houston anytime soon — but Linares sees the Astros in DeShields’ future, someday.
“He’s still young,” Linares said. “He still has a lot to learn. Offensively, he’ll develop. He’s got short swing, great knowledge of the strike zone. He’s struck out a lot but he’s still learning a lot. I love what I’ve seen of Delino and I think he’s going to develop into a very solid major league player.”
DeShields struggled with the bat to start the season but hit a stride in July, batting .320 with 14 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. That was a vast improvement over his first three months. He hit .208 in April, .236 in May and .154 in June, contributing to a .222 overall average this year.
Admittedly, the early part of the season was more about getting acclimated at his position, and not so much at the plate.
“The first half, I was really just focused on second base and not hitting as much. And it showed,” he said. “The second half it was more about getting my hits, working on fundamentals at the plate and mixing in some bunts here and there which has helped me out a little bit.”
Linares has also noticed that DeShields, known as polite and quiet, has taken on a more serious demeanor these days. In the past, he’d mope if a play or a call from an umpire didn’t go his way. Now, he’s thinking more analytically.
“A few times we’ve talked in the dugout and his comments have been not Delino-ish,” Linares said. “At the beginning of the year he’d say something funny or whatever. Now it’s more of a Baseball 101. He’s always talking about what he should have done when he’s not playing.”