DeShields becoming more versatile in Arizona
Astros prospect working on outfield play, likely to start 2014 in Double-A
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- If Astros prospect Delino DeShields Jr. has learned anything during his three-plus years in Houston's system, it's patience.
"As long as I go out there and play hard every day," DeShields says, "then I'll be where I'm supposed to be."
Where DeShields is now is in the Arizona Fall League, where he's spent the last few weeks getting himself re-acclimated with center field -- the position he played in high school -- after spending the last three seasons at second base.
Where DeShields hopes to be in the near future is knocking at the door of a Major League roster spot. He has the tools, highlighted by his streak-of-lightning speed, to perhaps be an impact player at some point down the road, but he's yet to play above Class A.
"I'm going to keep grinding it out and playing my butt off and opening some eyes, and the ultimate goal is to get to the big leagues," he said. "Might be next year or the year after that, but you just go out there and play hard and you never know what can happen."
Next year figures to be an important one for DeShields, who will likely make the jump to Double-A Corpus Christi while finding himself back in center. The transition to the outfield this fall hasn't been difficult for DeShields, who's bursting with athleticism.
"His routes are getting batter and his setup is better," said Astros manager Bo Porter, who was in Arizona last week. "That's one of the things we've been stressing to him -- if you make the transition, it's about the first step, and the way you work on that is making sure your setup is good. If you keep your body in motion, you're going to get the best jump you can get. No doubt, he has the closing speed. So if we can get him to understand the importance of the first step and getting a good jump, he can be an above-average defender."
The Astros decided to move DeShields back to the outfield after locking up big league second baseman Jose Altuve to a contract extension in July. DeShields admits he was a little shaky in the outfield at first, but he soon grew comfortable.
"It's just being where I'm supposed to be, getting lined up right," he said. "That kind of took me a minute, considering I hadn't been out there in four years. So far, it's gone really well and I've gotten better every day. I make sure I go out there in batting practice and shag and see some live balls off the bat and get good jumps. This is a learning process."
DeShields, 21, is polite and thoughtful. He was candid about his time at second base, saying he sometimes wishes he would have just stayed in the outfield, which was his natural position. But he knows the ability to play second base could give him more options down the road.
"My first year [playing second base in 2011] it was all about my defense, and I didn't really hit the way I wanted to," he said. "I guess it kind of set me back, because I had to repeat [Class A Lexington] and do that all over again. I don't take it for granted, though. I'm glad I did learn another position. It took me a minute to get really adjusted to it. It's just extra bullets in my pocket that I can use later if I need it. That's not all bad. There's a lot of positives that have come from it."
After hitting .220 in Lexington in his first full season of pro ball in 2011, DeShields returned to the South Atlantic League in 2012 and was spectacular. He hit .298 with 96 runs, 10 homers, 52 RBIs and had 83 stolen bases in 111 games, finishing with 101 steals after swiping 18 more bags at Class A Lancaster.
DeShields, whose father -- Delino DeShields Sr. -- hit .268 and stole 463 bases over a 13-year big league career with the Expos, Dodgers, Cardinals, Orioles and Cubs -- backed that up with another solid season this year, hitting .317 with five homers, 54 RBIs and 51 stolen bases in 111 games. He batted .359 (75-for-209) in the second half of the season.
"I got drafted because I could hit and I could run and I could use all my tools offensively, and after that bad year I had my first year, I finally got to show people that I use all my tools -- hit, hit home runs, hit balls in gaps, steal bases -- and this year, I hit really well," he said. "I didn't get 100 stolen bases as everybody probably expected. I'm going to keep improving on that part of my game, also.
"That's the type of guy I am. I hit. Now they're moving me back to the outfield, it gives me less stress. On the infield, you have a lot of responsibilities, a lot of stuff to worry about. Now really all I've got to do is go out there here and catch the ball and make good, accurate throws, and it makes my life a little easier."
The Arizona Fall League will come to an end next week, and the grind will continue for DeShields.
"I'm thinking about going to Puerto Rico and playing until January, and then having a month off," he said. "That's more than enough time to get my body well rested for Spring Training."