Pretend to be Delino DeShields the past 12 months.
He played well enough in 2017 for the Texas Rangers to be named the 2018 starting center fielder as soon as the season ended, yet the Rangers said that one of their off-season goals was to add a defensive-minded center fielder.
So, DeShields worked on a variety of things to become better defensively, just as he had in previous off-seasons. Lo and behold, the SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) Defensive Index rates DeShields as the top center fielder in the American League.
Great. Now, DeShields is struggling at the plate after a hot spring and a broken hamate bone in the second game of the season. Meanwhile, so are more than a couple of his teammates.
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Then, on Tuesday, DeShields gets sent to Triple A Round Rock in a move that is about as popular as Congress.
“It’s confusing to me, but I get what they were saying,” DeShields said. “But there are only two months left in the season, and I thought I would have the opportunity to work through those things here. I’m really close.”
The move was sold as one part protecting the bullpen, as left-hander Brandon Mann was recalled, and one part giving DeShields a chance for a different atmosphere to work on his craft.
Manager Jeff Banister, who wasn’t the only voice in the decision-making process, was the messenger of the news. The message opened him up to a bevy of questions.
The answers weren’t particularly satisfying or convincing, and the move isn’t consistent with how young players have been handled the past two seasons.
“We’re taking a guy that we want to be able to give an opportunity to work in an environment that isn’t a major-league environment,” Banister said. “We treat every situation not necessarily on a comparable basis. There are different circumstances when guys get sent down. Was the optimum? No, but it’s part of the process that we feel is best for us at this point.”
The move has also raised pointed questions in other areas.
Why isn’t the Rangers’ environment the right place for DeShields to figure things out?
If the environment isn’t right for DeShields, a dedicated worker and level-headed, confident player, how is it right for the other young players who are struggling?
Isn’t a development mode/rebuild about letting young players learn how to navigate hard times in the majors in the majors?
DeShields heads to Round Rock batting .204 with a .300 on-base percentage and just a .250 slugging percentage. The Rangers, though, aren’t paying him to hit home runs.
It was only Sunday when DeShelds walked twice, scored twice and stole two bases in a 5-0 win over the Cleveland Indians. Afterward, Banister praised the media member who pointed out the impact DeShields made.
That came after a day off, which came after DeShields struggled all around Friday and made a questionable diving attempt at sinking liner that turned into an RBI triple. The Rangers lost by one run.
“Our discussion was he’s a dynamic player for us and he’s going to continue to be a dynamic player for us,” Banister said. “But to get back to the guy he is — the leadoff hitter, the run scorer. He’s got to focus in on the on-base, he’s got to increase the opportunities he has to score.
“It’s a challenge to be able to work on it at this level when the production side is always part of the process as well. Hopefully we can focus in on this, get himself in a big place and get him back here quickly.”
DeShields said that he isn’t as lost as the Rangers believe. An argument can easily be made that isn’t the most lost player on the team even though he was batting only .169 since May 9. Many believe Rougned Odor was lost in 2017, when he batted .204 yet played in all 162 games.
The need for Mann arose after long relievers Austin Bibens-Dirkx and Matt Moore were burned up Saturday and Monday. It turned into a convenient way for the Rangers to option DeShields over Ryan Rua or Joey Gallo, other outfielders with options who have had their share of struggles this season.
DeShields must spend 10 days in the minors, barring an injury, before he can return to the Rangers’ roster. He expects to be back quickly.
“I kind of just told them that I come here every day with a clear head,” DeShields said. “Every day is my day and it’s going to click offensively. I’m still a very confident person. Just because I’m going through some struggles doesn’t mean I’m less than a player than I always thought I was.
“I don’t feel lost. I’m just not content with the guy that I have been. I know the value that guy brings, and I know I can be more. I’m not trying to hit homers or anything like that. I want to be a more complete hitter and learn more about the offensive side instead of just going up there and being complacent or content.”
The bulk of the at-bats in center field will go to Carlos Tocci, the Rule 5 pick who is batting .105 and whose greatest contribution this season came Monday when he retired both batters he faced as a pitcher.
Rule 5 regulations dictate that Tocci can’t be optioned off the active roster. The Rangers knew that his bat was behind when they acquired him during the winter meetings, but they continue to call him a premium defensive player.
Want premium? DeShields has a significant edge in the SABR Defensive Index, which accounts for 25 percent of voting for Gold Glove awards and is one of the game’s fastest players. Tocci’s speed is average at best, and he has even less power than DeShields.
The Philadelphia Phillies, the team that lost Tocci in the Rule 5 draft, have informed the Rangers that they would take him back if they tried to pass him through waivers, but with the outfielders the Rangers have coming through the minors (Willie Calhoun, Leody Taveras, Julio Pablo Martinez, Scott Heineman, Bubba Thompson), it’s hard to imagine Tocci ever getting significant playing time.
It was hard for some to imagine the Rangers sending DeShields to the minors.
“It hasn’t worked out for me this year, but I come here every day,” he said. “I work hard, I put on for the guys, and that’s all I could really ask for. The results are the results, but I’ve just got to, I guess, find myself, I guess. Whatever that means.”