Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Not Seein' Desmond

Yesterday, the Nationals called up Ian Desmond, possibly the only MLB-ready prospect among position players in the entire organization. With the 2009 season and Cristian Guzman's days as an adequate defensive shortstop both fading fast, the Nationals have an opportunity to at least start to find out whether Ian Desmond could be a solution at shortstop in 2010.

A successful Desmond audition would have important ramifications for the team as soon as this off-season. They could commit to shifting Guzman to second base, giving him all of spring training to adjust to the new position. They could find out that they don't need to spend on a middle-infielder like Orlando Hudson. They could try to move Guzman, freeing up the $8 million in bad contract still on the books and still go after a free agent.

It seems like Desmond has been around a long time, mainly because he was unfairly overhyped as far back as 2005 by the previous regime as the next Derek Jeter. Beyond a passing facial resemblance, it was a ridiculous comp, and the pressure seemed to weigh heavily on him. He was also pushed hard, playing at high-A Potomac at age 19 and AA at age 20, getting both promotions before he'd really mastered lower levels.

But he's still just 23 (24 this month), and the tools are there. He was named the best infield arm in the AAA International League in Baseball America. And while his error totals have been a concern (28 this year), scouts have consistently raved about his range and arm.

The bat has been the big question, as he's been consistently undone by a bad approach at the plate, chasing too many balls out of the zone. This year, the light seems to have gone on. In 205 plate appearances at Syracuse, his walk rate is 10.1%, up from 8.8% in AA last year, and his strikeout rate has fallen to 17.4% from 24.1%.

He doesn't have much pop, so those numbers still say he'll be a below-average hitter, but if the glove is there, he can be a 2.5-win player right now, maybe a cheap Jack Wilson with more upside.

So I was pretty excited to flip on the game yesterday and see the kid play, maybe even get a look at Guzman at second. Instead, it was Guzman at short and Riggleman's pet, Pete Orr, at second.

Here's what Riggleman said:
"I'll get him some games, but as long as Guzman is healthy he'll be playing. If his foot flares up on him that will be an opportunity to get Desmond in there, but we also have Gonzalez and Orr who will be playing up the middle. I love to see young players play, but I don't ever want to take away the opportunity from the veterans who have been here all year... and disregard their efforts all year by planting them on the bench. Like I said, the at bats might be inconsistent."
What's the point? Cristian Guzman shouldn't have a future at short, and Pete Orr has no future anywhere in MLB. And since when has Pete Orr been here all here? This is just a short-sighted, wasted opportunity, and shows the kind of dumb deference to declining veteran players that will keep bad teams from getting better.

Play Desmond, please. Every day.


sjberke said...

Well, if Riggleman wants to play Guzman, Gonzalez and Orr in the middle infield and leave Desmond on the bench there's not much you or I or Rizzo can do about it (well, actually there's more Rizzo can do about it, but does he really want to get into it with the manager, let alone dump him, with three weeks left in the season?) The only comfort here for Desmond is knowing that if Riggleman won't take a look at him now, his successor almost certainly will next spring (unless maybe Orlando Hudson is signed...) Even so, it's a shame to lose these three weeks.

estoppel.08 said...

I totally a agree with you. Play Desmond!!

I guess Riggleman are eager to win NOW for securing his job in D.C. Bullpen abuse as seen in yesterday's game is another reason of my guess.

Dave Nichols said...

Steven, you are right. Riggleman is wrong. Rizzo should step in, pronto. there is no reason to call up Desmond if he isn't going to play. period.

hleeo3 said...

Free Ian Desmond!

Steve said...

Yes, this is maddening for a number of ridiculous messages it sends:
1) "Good job learning plate discipline, kid. Now we'll show you how important we think that is up here -- Swing away, Guz!" [Way to go collecting your 15th walk of the season -- 4 more than Flores in only 90 additional games.]
2) "Good season in the minors, kid. We'd love to play you but we don't want to bust up the worst defense in the league. If it's broke, don't fix it, I always say."

I think estoppel.08 has hit the nail on the head: Rigs is thinking he has to win now to keep his job, and he'll do just about anything to try to make it happen. Maybe it's better if he can't run all the kids into the ground...

Steven said...

The "he has to win now to save his job" thing is strange to me. After all, Rizzo should be setting expectations. He should be saying, "look, "you're a candidate, and the most important thing you can do to make the case for yourself is to 1. transition these kids into the big leagues, and 2. win. But if you do 2 at the expense of 1, that's going to be frowned upon."

If Rizzo isn't saying that, then fine, but I don't think we should assume that it's al just a big misunderstanding.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Riggleman would follow your advice Steven. I'm pretty Seattle told him that last year and he perceives that he was unfairly fired by the Mariners for doing what he was told

Steve said...

Point taken, Steven, but it wouldn't shock me a bit if everyone is feeling pressure from on high to do just about anything to have fewer losses than 2008. It's funny how often dysfunctional organizations (baseball or otherwise) have mixed messages like this. And it would fit 100% with what you have noted elsewhere.

Steven said...

Yep, that's certainly possible. But the day to day line-up card is Riggleman's bottom-line responsibility. As a fan and commenter, if I don't like the line-up card, I'm going to complain about Riggleman, unless I get some evidence that I shouldn't.