Versatile Desmond Is Driven for Success

SCOTTSDALE – Ian Desmond has a debt to pay – to himself more than anyone else.

He signed with the Rockies as a free agent a year ago, receiving a five-year, $70 million contract.

The Rockies liked his athleticism and a versatility that they felt would allow for Desmond, after initially filling the void at first base, to become what was referred to as “an upgraded Ben Zobrist,” a utility player who could step in at a multitude of positions.

Desmond was all in.

There, however, was a bump in the road.

During a spring training game last March a fastball from Reds pitcher Rookie Davis broke Desmond’s left-hand. Instead of being introduced as part of the Rockies starting lineup on Opening Day 2017, Desmond was on the disabled list for the second time in his career, the first time since 2012, and what turned out to be the first of three times in 2017 alone.

It ate at him.

This is a guy that played in 154 or more games in six of his first seven full seasons. The only exception was in 2012 when he suffered a torn left oblique and settled on 130 games and 513 at-bats, his career lows, until last year’s 339 at-bats in 95 games.

 “I want to fulfill my obligations,” Desmond said. “I want to be the best employee that I can be.”

Desmond’s actions underscore his words.

He is an early arrival every day, and he is working not just at first base, but also in left field and even at short, the position he played his first six full big-league seasons with the Washington Nationals.

He is in limbo for now.

Ryan McMahon, ranked the second best prospect in the organization, coming off a breakout season between Double-.A Hartford and Triple-A Albuquerque, is getting a long look at first base.

David Dahl, a prime prospect who had an impact in the final two months of 2016 but missed the entire 2017 season, and Raimel Tapia, who rode the shuttle from Albuquerque to Denver six times a year ago, are going to get long looks in left field this spring.

Desmond is in the wings, the answer the Rockies can turn to at either position, or possibly a player who will get into 140-plus games by stepping in at a number of position.

“For that I need to be prepared,” he said. “The not knowing what position I'm going to play on Opening Day or what my role is going to be is a little tough, but I think they're doing a good job of giving me work in left and at first. The other day I took ground balls at short just because, you just never know. That motto with me is be ready for anything, so that's kind of what I'm doing.”

And to know Desmond is to know that when he says it is what he is doing he means it has become an obsession. Being okay does not satisfy the native of Florida, who was a two-time All-Star with the Nationals.

He is willing to play anywhere the Rockies want. He understood that would be his eventual role when he signed with them. But he also wants to play that position at an elite level. Being okay isn’t okay with him. He might be filling in at second base for a day, and then first base for a game, left field for a game, center field for a game. He wants everyone to be comfortable that he can handle the position at a high level, that he is not merely somebody out there trying to get by.

“I think it's great that they trust me to go out there and play a position that I don't feel like I'm prepared for,” he said. “They believe enough in me to allow me to go out there and play at the major league level. That's about the biggest compliment anyone can get from your GM.”

He wants to prove he deserves the compliment.

“I probably need to get back to when I moved to the outfield in the first place,” he said of the adjustment he made when he signed a one-year free-agent deal with the Rangers in 2016. “I have to allow myself some grace. I'm extremely hard on myself in this scenario.

“I feel like I should probably back off (the self-induced pressures) because of the circumstance, but how do you do that? I have to go home and explain to my kid why I made an error in the seventh inning that could have potentially cost us the game.”

There is no shaking things off for Desmond.

He is driven to be successful.

Excuses are not allowed.

It’s part of the package the Rockies bought into when they signed Desmond as a free agent prior to last season.

It’s why they are anxious to see him healthy and on the field in 2018.

Tracy RingolsbyComment