Prospect Profile: Ian Desmond
Ian Desmond was drafted by the Montreal Expos in the third round in 2004, out of high school in Sarasota, Florida. He was considered very toolsy but very raw when drafted, showing excellent arm strength and good speed, but lacking power and offensive polish. He hit .227/.272/.292 in 55 games of rookie ball in the Gulf Coast League after signing, hardly impressive numbers through organization officials praised his work ethic and physicality. He did steal 13 bases in 16 attempts. I didn't put him in the 2005 book but would have rated him as a Grade C, with a high ceiling but needing to make a lot of progress.
The Expos became the Nationals in the 2005, and the organization braintrust decided to push Desmond very quickly, skipping him past the New York-Penn League and assigning him directly to full-season ball. He hit .247/.291/.334 in 73 games for Savannah in the Sally League, then .256/.325/.385 in 55 games for Potomac in the Carolina League, after a very aggressive promotion. He made 35 errors, but scouts liked his range and arm strength. He also stole 33 bases in 45 attempts, and impressed the front office with his emotional maturity. I gave him a Grade C in the 2006 book, noting his age-relative-to-league, but also noting the necessity to sharpen his plate discipline, given his 34/113 BB/K ratio in 515 at-bats.
Desmond began 2006 at Double-A Harrisburg, but he was overmatched and posted a 184/.221/.232 mark in 38 games, also struggling with the glove. Sent back to Potomac, he hit .244/.313/.384 in 92 games, similar to what he'd done in '05, though he looked more comfortable defensively. I gave him another Grade C, continuing to note his youth but also his lack of offensive progress.
The Nationals gave Desmond some stability in 2007, letting him play 129 games at Potomac. This resulted in an improved .264/.357/.432 mark, with 13 homers, 27 steals in 38 attempts, and a career high 57 walks. The Nationals made adjustments to his swing, enabling him to quicken up on fastballs, and he also did an improved job recognizing breaking balls. His defense remained solid. Although this was his third season at Potomac, he was still just 21 years old. I gave him a Grade C+ in the 2008 book, noting the improvements and projecting that if he maintained this progress, he could see the majors in 2009.
Returning to Harrisburg in 2008, Desmond hit .251/.318/.406 in 93 games, with 12 homers, 31 walks, and 12 steals in 20 attempts. His discipline slipped, but it was certainly much better than his '08 Double-A trial. I did lower his grade to a straight C in this year's book, expressing concern about if he'd hit enough to start in the majors, but noting that he was still young and still had development potential.
Desmond began '09 at Harrisburg again, hitting .302/.372/.494 in 42 games. Promoted to Triple-A Syracuse, he remained hot with a .354/.428/.461 mark, giving him a combined total of .330/.401/.477 on the season, with 21 steals in 26 attempts. He's 10-for-17 (.588) in four major league games, with a homer and four doubles. Obviously that kind of pace is unsustainable, but nevertheless it's been a remarkable year for him.
His BABIP was rather inflated this year, .425 at Syracuse and a cumulative .398. If you use the "normalize luck" and "normalize park" tools at MinorLeagueSplits.com, his numbers this year come out as a mere .248/.326/.363, very much like what he did in previous seasons. On the other hand, the tools have always been here, and most scouts seem to believe he's made real progress honing his skills. He's played almost the entire season at age 23 (he turns 24 later this month), so he's young enough for the breakthrough to be real. On the third hand, despite the improved overall numbers his strike zone judgment hardly budged at all compared to last year: he had a 31/80 BB/K last year in 336 at-bats, compared to a 36/71 BB/K in 348 at-bats this year. His strikeouts are down a bit but not by a huge amount. Usually if a guy has made hugely signficant improvements in his approach, it will show up more strongly.
I haven't seen Desmond outside of video this year, so I don't have any personal observations to contribute. Did he just get lucky this year, or has he made real progress? I think the jury is still out. Grade-wise, I'm thinking that I have to go up to at least a B-, but higher than that I'm doubtful. My guess, right now, is that there are elements of truth on both sides here....he obviously had better luck this year, but he also made some genuine progress. This isn't a Mike Aviles-like Age 27 career season, I don't think...but he's not going to maintain a .398 BABIP, either. I expect Desmond will regress to some extent in 2010, but not all the way back. That's just my current thinking, and I know I have a tendency to just "split the difference" in cases like this, which isn't always the right approach. I could change my mind. What do you think?