If it weren't for Billy Hamilton, I bet that Delino DeShields, Jr's season would be getting a lot more attention. Drafted 8th overall in 2010, the younger DeShields bears a resemblance to his father in name and position only. He stands 5'9 and 188 lbs per BaseballAmerica, and his physique doesn't hint so much as it stands, shouting from the rooftop of his past as a high school football star. That football-centered past has hindered DeShields in the early goings in the minor leagues, though he is showing signs of breaking through in 2012.
Read more on DeShields after the jump...
DeShields full season debut in Lo-A was something of a disaster statistically, posting a .222/.307/.324 slash line. Of course, the minor leagues aren't really about the numbers, so let's not rush to judgement too quickly as we explore the statistical side of his introduction to full season ball. While DeShields struggled to hit for average, power or get on base at a reasonable clip, there were signs for optimism. Though he was drafted as a top ten pick, the Astros knew they were getting a project, similar to someone you'd take in the later rounds, but with supreme upside. As raw as he was, DeShields debuted with an impressive 9.6 BB%, and all things considered his K% of 21.8 wasn't too bad either. His numbers were also depressed by a .274 BABIP, though even a league average one wouldn't make his slash line look pretty. Again, it's not really about the numbers, especially in the low minors, so we shouldn't put too much emphasis on the, as it is the progression of his tools that is of the utmost importance. All that said, let's take a look at his 2012 numbers before looking at what DeShields' packs in his toolbox. While the slash line might not leap off the page at you, .269/.378/.382 is a vast improvement over 2011, and show development in his toolset. DeShields is repeating Lo-A, but that's not necessarily a reason to brush off his improvement as he was extremely raw in his first go around, and reports indicate at 20 years of age, he's not just beating up on younger competition. His jump in average is supported by a jump in BABIP from .274 to .335, but it is also accompanied with an improved BB% of 13.6, a 4% bump, and a lowering of his K% from 21.8 to 19.7. If you tell me a prospect shows an improved hit tool, while simultaneously raising his walk rate, lowering his strikeout rate and maintains his power output (however meager), I'm going to get excited, and that is exactly what is happening in the case of DeShields. Here I've gone and thrown down all these words on DeShields and we have yet to discuss the most impressive and polished part of his game: speed. Speed isn't necessarily lacking in the minors, but it is mostly possessed by Billy Hamilton and a few others. DeShields is making a case to be one of the few others. After lifting 30 bases in 41 chances (73% success rate) off of opposing teams in 2011, DeShields has stepped his game up, swiping 58 bags while only getting caught 8 times (88% success rate), a rate even higher than Mr. Hamilton himself.
While DeShields isn't big, he displays both the strength and the plus bat speed to project future average power which, combined with his speed (a solid 70 grade tool) would make him quite the intriguing second baseman if it all comes together. Much of his struggles stem from how raw he is due to splitting his time between football and baseball as a prep player, and while his strength wasn't evident in 2011 and has barely surfaced in 2012, once he improves at identifying pitches, and becoming selectively aggressive, you could see those power numbers start to rise. Fangraphs' Mike Newman speaks to DeShields' "explosive hands and plus bat speed "his propensity to swing with his shoulders" and "a tendency to spin off on his front foot causing him to swing from his heels at times." What excites me about DeShields, perhaps similar to my original and renewed excitement over Jared Mitchell is the impressive strides made while still remaining raw. It leads me to think that if he can post these types of improvements and results with his ceiling remaining so far away, that he could be quite an intriguing player to watch develop. DeShields also made the transition from prep school outfielder to professional second baseman last year, and while there was a bit of a learning curve, all expectations are that he will be able to man the position at the major league level in due time. The biggest question mark on his defense is subpar arm strength, though if for some reason he can't stick it out at the keystone, he will stay up the middle in centerfield. If he was unable to adequately field either of those positions, it would be tough to see his bat profiling anywhere else.
While DeShields has made significant strides entering his second full season, there remains a lot of work to do. As much as I may be excited about his potential given his current production and his distance from his ceiling, there is a flip side to that perspective. That is, he may have made some improvements, but there's a long way to go and there's a good chance that he never quite gets there. For all his tools, it looks as though DeShields will be a hit or miss type of prospect with not much of a chance for in between. Unless something changes, he'll either hit enough to access his power and get on base enough to wreak havoc, or the feel for hitting never quite develops and he'll make a minimal impact. As much of a fan as I've become of DeShields, he's far more of someone to keep on your radar in the wait-and-see column as opposed to someone to snatch up as soon as possible.