I last wrote about Delino DeShields, Jr. in July of 2012, as DeShields was halfway through what ended up being a breakout season for him. DeShields' finished second in the minor leagues in stolen bases, trailing only Billy Hamilton, as he racked up 101 stolen bases between two levels. The former 8th overall selection in the draft hasn't progressed as quickly as one might hope from that high a draft pick, but then again he was always tools over polish, so a quick trip through the minors shouldn't have been expected.
Deshields' 2012 wasn't a success based solely on stolen bases, but instead he produced a solid slash line of .298/.401/.439, in Lo-A, with the only caveat being that he was repeating the league. At 19-years old though, it's not as if he was old for the level. The most encouraging thing out of that line was the OBP, as it was generated, not just through average but by a 13.4% walk rate. DeShields did struggle with a late season promotion to Hi-A, and while some might have thought that foreshadowed a struggle in 2013, it has not, at least thus far. DeShields has seen his walk rate drop a substantial amount, though it still sits at a solid 10.7%. Encouragingly, we've seen a drop in strikeout percentage as well, from 20.7% down to 18.6%, on his way to a .314/.396/.451 slash line. The slash line is certainly solid, if not more than that, but the concerning part would be that it fueled by an unsustainable .393 BABIP. In fact, both of DeShields' big seasons (if we're counting 2013) have been somewhat BABIP driven. That said, it's not all that unlikely that DeShields could support an elevated BABIP given his impressive speed. While DeShields has stolen 42 bases thus far in 2013, he's also been caught an unsightly 16 times, for a 72% success rate. DeShields has produced a 126 wRC+ in his time in Lancaster, so while the California League helps hitters out across the board, DeShields is performing at level 26% over league average.
When it comes to tools, here is what I had to say about DeShields just over a year ago:
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.
Oof, that Mitchell comment. That one will hurt me. That said, the analysis was fairly accurate, if not a bit vague. I also may have undersold the speed which has earned 80 grades on multiple occasions. The biggest factor for DeShields will likely end up being the hit tool. While he's shown decent pop before, power is not his game. His swing isn't geared for power either, nor should it be, as it wouldn't take advantage of his greatest asset. DeShields does well to identify pitches early and knows the strikezone well enough to lay off pitches outside the zone. His hit tool is still a bit crude, and will really be put to the test at the Double-A level. If it can even play as a 50, DeShields could be a monster fantasy player for his stolen bases. DeShields was a high school outfielder before transitioning to second base as a pro, and he's still raw at the position. It's not clear whether he'll ever be even average there, but it seems as though the Astros are committed to leaving him there, as his bat plays best there. The biggest issue to crop up for DeShields, and really the reason for this update is that his #want has been called into question. He doesn't bust it down the line every time, though clearly, to produce the times he has (sub 3.9 at times), he goes after it sometimes. The lack of desire has manifested itself in the field as well, and could be contributing to his struggles thus far.
DeShields is still a bit of an enigma, combining some evident rawness with apparent ability, but for fantasy leaguers he appears to be a worthwhile risk. The hit tool, while still a bit of a question mark, has enough upside to it to make DeShields a premium fantasy product, even if he ends up as mostly a second division player. Finding the players that end up lower down on prospect lists due to issues that won't damage their fantasy stats are what ever owner is looking for, and I think DeShields ends up as one of these guys.