ESPN's Buster Olney had an interesting note this morning about 10 players who are hitting a career crossroads this season. And oddly enough, Ian Desmond was one of the players on his list.
I'm not going to copy the whole thing - the keener observers around here know how I feel about lifting stuff from behind a paywall, and ESPN Insider is well worth $4.95 a month for the chance to read Olney, Jayson Stark, Jerry Crasnick, et al. - but the gist is that Desmond needs to prove he's an everyday shortstop, rather than just an athletic utilityman who can play a lot. Olney talked to scouts who cited Desmond's 34 errors, but also thought he would improve with Adam LaRoche playing first base instead of Adam Dunn.
It's funny, because the scouts I've talked to about Desmond have never expressed an iota of doubt he would be a long-term starter in the majors. As much as his athleticism, they love his poise on the field; one NL East scout I talked to last year said Desmond was one of his favorite players he'd ever encountered. Another said he rated Desmond's range at a 65 on a scout's traditional 20-80 scale, and thought he would grow out of the errors.
But that's where the crossroads lies; if Desmond continues to be a shortstop who can make the spectacular stop, but struggles with the routine ones, I can see him getting moved. The Nationals toyed with the idea of making him a super-utility player last spring before having him supplant Cristian Guzman at shortstop. That plan was mostly because the Nationals still had Guzman (and were paying him $8 million), and Desmond has all the goodwill in the world with the club. They were adamant in their refusal to move him this winter, putting Danny Espinosa in trade talks instead.
All that said, he needs to take another step forward this year, particularly when it comes to errors and strikeouts. His 20.8% strikeout rate led all major league shortstops by a full percent, and Desmond's on-base percentage was just .308, 39 points above his average. He shined in the No. 2 spot late last year, and the guess here is he'll get a good chance to hit there this season. The Nationals need better on-base percentages from both of their top two hitters this year, though, and if Desmond's OBP is still in the low .300s, I could see him getting bumped down in the lineup.
Desmond will already be 26 in September - he's only a year younger than Ryan Zimmerman - and there's no question this is a big year for him. The Nationals, and many people around baseball, think he can be a cog on a contending team. He needs to prove he can grow into those shoes.