The monotony of spring training can make a month feel like two and leave important events that happened not long ago feel like an eternity ago.
Take, for instance, the Ian Desmond signing. The career shortstop was plucked off the free-agent market to become the Texas Rangers’ everyday left fielder all the way back on Feb. 29.
Yeah, not even four full weeks ago, but at least it was last month.
On Wednesday, Desmond was the Rangers’ starting center fielder for the second time this spring season.
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So, in the matter of just over three weeks, Desmond has blossomed from a complete outfield novice into a left fielder doing so well that his team wants to see how viable of an option he can be if Delino DeShields needs a couple innings or a couple days or a couple weeks off.
He continues to impress. Just the vision of the field and the instincts. A former shortstop, he sees the field very well.
Manager Jeff Banister on Ian Desmond
That might sound like too much too soon, and maybe it will prove to be. The Rangers, though, are working at Desmond’s pace, established by an off-the-charts work ethic that has served him well during his crash course to become an outfielder.
“It’s not like I’m just going out there every day with my glove and just winging it,” Desmond said. “There is work behind it. This isn’t just throw my hat out there and bring my bat to the field by any stretch of the imagination. I’m working my butt off, and I plan on doing that for the duration.”
Desmond showed how far he’s come in the second inning, when Tim Federwicz sent a drive off Derek Holland to deep center field. Desmond tracked it down, catching the ball at his waist while hitting the wall, and then fired a one-hop throw from the 400-feet sign to double up Jorge Soler as he jogged back to first base.
Manager Jeff Banister called Desmond’s performance, which also included an RBI triple to raise his Cactus League average to .387, a “very nice day.” Desmond said that instincts took over.
3 Outfield assists this week for Desmond, one Monday from left field and two Wednesday from center field
“That could have been a lot worse,” he said. “I’ve kind of been wild with the throws over the last four to five games where I just want to see what I’ve got. I’m trying to add some knowledge to what I can do out there. I don’t really know.”
Desmond has been working daily with coaches Jayce Tingler and Dwayne Murphy, and is trying to soak up as much information from other outfielders by peppering them with questions.
Desmond is so dedicated to getting a handle on left field that he will shag three rounds of big league batting practice. He has even gone to the back fields to shag balls during minor league batting practice and he will stick around Cactus League games after he has played his allotted innings just to watch outfielders play while the rest of the veterans head to the clubhouse.
“We’ve talked about the baseball IQ that he has and the desire that he has,” manager Jeff Banister said. “Not only is he putting work in during the regular hours out here, but he’s been out there on Field 8 when nobody’s watching during the minor league BPs and running down every single ball he possibly can. The work ethic is off the charts.”
Despite his work, Desmond said that he hasn’t come anywhere close to conquering left field, nor is he comfortable in center field after years on the infield dirt.
The Rangers are expected to have a different Opening Day left fielder for the fourth straight year. David Murphy was the starter in 2013, Shin-Soo Choo in 2014, Ryan Rua in 2015 and Ian Desmond in 2016.
“Like I said from the very beginning, I respect every position and I think every position comes with its challenges,” Desmond said. “By no means do I think that I’m anywhere near where I want to be, but I am taking steps in that direction.
“I think there may be days when I play out there [in center field], but I wouldn’t consider it part of their plan. They may, but to me it just seems like I’m their left fielder and they want me to have reps in center field in case that day comes.”
Nothing Desmond has done this spring, from the work ethic to the special plays like the one he made Wednesday, has come as a surprise to the Rangers.
“No, I’m not surprised,” DeShields said. “He’s a shortstop. He’s an athlete, a freak athlete and a great talent. God gave him a gift, and he’s able to use it out there. He wants everything to be in his hands, and he works at it. He’s diligent at what he does, just trying to be the best he can be in that position for his team.”