A couple of seasons ago, a pro scout was sitting in the stands with Tommy Lasorda watching the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts play. A Lookout player hit a double, capping it off with a great slide. One of the fans sitting nearby came over to Tommy and was applauding the play, especially the hustle of the Lookout player. Tommy turned to the fan and said emphatically, "I don't applaud hustle, I expect it."
Which brings us to Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond. That same scout has been raving for the past year about Desmond, and how much of a throwback player he seems to be. Hustle? Second nature to Desmond, whose hustle at times his rookie season led to mistakes, but as the season progressed into the second half, the mistakes diminished as the "Gee whiz, I'm in the major leagues!" amperage got turned down several watts.
I'd look at this differently if this scout's opinion was, in any way, a lone voice, but it's not, by a long shot. Scouts throughout the game grade players on other teams, and the special players are labeled "Acquire." I've yet to find a scout yet who doesn't have Desmond in that category.
Feel free to focus on the 34 errors he made last year. It's a total that might have been four or five fewer with a real first baseman across the field. Nonetheless, it's a total that wasn't totally unexpected, and there's no shortage of name shortstops over the years with similar error totals early in their careers. Heck, Garry Templeton - who played all or part of 16 seasons in the National League - made at least 32 errors each of his first three full seasons with St. Louis, and didn't have nearly the offensive pop Desmond has.
I'm not ready to assign immortal status to Desmond yet, but I don't think the scouts are wrong, either. At 25 and improving, Ian Desmond and 26-year-old Ryan Zimmerman figure to be the left side of the Washington infield for the next three years anyway (Zimmerman's contract runs through 2013), and potentially well beyond that.
Hustle as an instinct, rather than an occasional burst of inspiration, goes a long way in this game. Desmond's got it, along with some talent. What he does with it should be entertaining.