One prolific basestealer who has spent most 0f 2012 at A-Ball has captured the hearts of baseball fans everywhere. That player is Billy Hamilton of the Reds organization. But it easily could have been Houston Astros prospect Delino DeShields Jr. While Hamilton has lapped the field with 143 stolen bases, DeShields is in second place, quite a bit behind at “just” 89 stolen bases. But unlike Hamilton, DeShields has a whole lot more to his game than just speed.
DeShields has faced a tough standard to live up to even since Little League. DeShields’ father, Delino DeShields Sr., stole 46 bases the year his son was born in 1990 and 463 stolen bases for his career to go along with 80 home runs. DeShields Sr. was a career .268/.352/.377 hitter with 6 homers and 36 stolen bases per season over his 13-year career from 1990-2002. DeShields Sr. was a first round pick, 12th overall, by the Expos in 1987. His son has already beat him in that regard, getting selected selected 8th overall by the Astros in 2010. DeShields Sr. was primarily a singles hitter with little power but great speed and good patience. DeShields Sr. played second base almost his entire career and his son has done the same so far. DeShields Jr. also shares his father’s patience and speed. However, DeShields’ tools are much louder than his father’s ever were. DeShields Sr. was fast. Jr. has breathtaking speed. Sr. could smack some line drive singles and occasionally leg out doubles and triples to go along with a homer every once in a while. DeShields’ Jr. will get his doubles and triples, but he adds in overall average power potential, above-average for a second baseman. The Astros have to hope that DeShields learns to make contact as well as his father did in the final nine years of his career as his strikeout to walk ratio was an outstanding 706-539, and with his bat speed, DeShields has a chance to do just that. Defensively, Delino DeShields Sr. was an average defender at second base. DeShields Jr. has the chance to be better, featuring excellent range to go along with a solid arm. His actions are good, although his throwing mechanics require continued improvement. But if second base doesn’t work out, DeShields could always put his speed to good use in centerfield. Delino DeShields Jr. features explosive tools and has the ability to be a topflight big league player someday.
DeShields Jr. spent his first full season in pro ball with the L0w-A Lexington Legends in 2011 and smacked 17 doubles and 9 homers and stole 30 of 41 bases. That was fine, but DeShields managed just a .220/.305/.322 line in 119 games and 541 plate appearances, striking out 112 times versus 52 walks. DeShields’ walk rate (9.6% of his plate appearances) and his speed looked good, but DeShields had serious trouble making contact and especially barreling balls, striking out in 21.8% of his plate appearances, too often for a player who doesn’t really hit for power at this point, and according to Minor League Central, DeShields’ Jr. managed just a 13.8% line drive rate compared to the 16.4% South Atlantic League average, leading to his low batting average and also his .102 ISO. But the Astros were confident that DeShields could put something together in his second try in Lexington in 2012, and he has been as good as anyone could have hoped.
In 2012 at Lexington, DeShields was incredible, posting a .298/.401/.439 line with 22 doubles, 5 triples, 10 homers, 52 RBI, an incredible 83 of 97 in stolen bases, and a great 108-70 strikeout to walk ratio in 111 games and 523 plate appearances. According to Minor League Central, he upped his line drive rate to 19.8%, a huge increase from his 2011 mark. DeShields hit the ball hard, got on base a ton, and then left the opposition baffled with his blazing speed. DeShields was then promoted to the High-A Lancaster Jethawks by the Astros and has continued to play well in his first 10 games, posting a .300/.391/.350 line with 2 doubles, 2 RBI, and 6 of 8 stolen bases to bring him to 89 on the year, already an Astros organizational record.
Presently, it’s not easy to watch the Houston Astros. The once-great team that made it to the 2005 World Series is now a shadow of its former self. But under new ownership and general manager Jeff Luhnow, the Astros are rebuilding through the draft and DeShields is right at the center of that. Ironically, as they look towards the future, the Astros brought in a player reminding baseball fans of a player from the past in Delino DeShields Jr. The move to draft DeShields was immediately put into question as he struggled in his first pro season, but his scintillating 2012 has gotten right back on the fast-track to the big leagues. With his talents, DeShields has the ability to be a cornerstone piece for the Astros and that could happen sooner than anyone thought entering the season.
For more on the Astros, please check out Climbing Tal’s Hill.