Desmond improves at plate for Potomac
By Corey Masisak
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Published August 25, 2006
By this time last season, Ian Desmond had cemented his status as one of the top prospects in the Washington Nationals organization.
Desmond, who already had earned a reputation for his defensive wizardry, held his own at the plate as a then 19-year-old shortstop in the high Class A Carolina League.
The organization decided to push Desmond this year and he started the season at Class AA Harrisburg. As a 20-year-old with questionable plate discipline, he was overmatched by more advanced pitchers. A back injury that forced him to miss almost two weeks didn't help.
"I had never experienced failure like that and it hit me pretty hard," Desmond said. "I still battled my butt off."
Another new experience for the Sarasota, Fla., native was the April and May weather in the Eastern League. He played in the short-season Class A New York-Penn League with Vermont in 2004, but August in places like Winooski, Vt., and Oneonta, N.Y., is quite different than April nights in Erie, Pa., or New Britain, Conn.
"I am from Florida and had never really experienced that type of cold weather before," Desmond said. "That was an adjustment I had to make -- wearing long sleeves and trying to lock in, it is not easy."
He hit .182 in 121 at-bats with 35 strikeouts and only five walks with the Senators. A combination of the struggles at the plate and the back injury also affected his defense. Near the end of May, the organization decided it was time for Desmond to return to Potomac.
"I wasn't surprised, but I was a little disappointed. When you do that badly, you just want to prove to people I can do better than that," the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Desmond said. "Age doesn't really matter to me. It isn't like I am some 5-foot-6 peashooter out there. I can hold my own. It is just disappointing. When I was up there [with Harrisburg], I would come out every day and get beat and get beat. It takes a big toll on you. It is hard to stay positive when you take all those extra swings and then nothing."
When Desmond returned to Woodbridge, Va., he started fast (14-for-40 for a .350 batting average) and then faded. By late July, Desmond's average had dipped below .230. The addition of Felipe Lopez at the major league level and the high-profile signing of 16-year-old shortstop Esmailyn Gonzalez brought Desmond's "shortstop of the future" tag into question.
Desmond has made strides at the plate in the past month. He is 26-for-95 (.274) since July 30 and recently had a 13-game hitting streak. He has six home runs and 11 stolen bases since July 1 after only one homer and five steals in the first three months of the season.
"Right know I think Ian is on the right path," Potomac manager Edgar Caceres said. "I think he just needs some more experience and he is going to be pretty good. His hitting is coming around. He made a couple of adjustments with his swing and he is showing a little bit of power at times. He needs a little bit more discipline at the plate and then he should be fine.
"He has the [defensive] ability. He needs to concentrate more and make the routine plays, which he has been doing more. At times he could be better with anticipating ground balls. Right now, he is maybe one step to the left or right from being good -- to be able to read balls and get his feet under him. That is what he needs and you get that from experience from playing every day."
Desmond is expected to be one of the Nationals' representatives this October in the return of the Hawaii Winter Baseball League, which was shut down eight years ago. The league will feature 40-game schedules and four teams of minor league players from Class A and Class AA, as well as professional players from Asia.
When the league existed from 1993 to 1997, more than 100 future big leaguers took part, including Ichiro Suzuki and Tadahtio Iguchi when they played in Japan. It could be a valuable opportunity for players like Desmond, who might not be ready to face the elite prospects in the Arizona Fall League.
Desmond still has far too much potential to be forgotten about. His defense should eventually be good enough that he will see time in the majors regardless of his offense. But progress at the plate remains the key to determining what type of big league player Desmond will be.
"If I can figure out my offense and be more consistent, who knows?" Desmond said. "My defense feels great, better than ever. I am starting to see light with my offense. If I can keep working and working and have a great offseason, maybe I can come back next year with more consistency and there will be good things."