Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Decision to Move Delino DeShields

When the Astros drafted Delino DeShields out of Woodward Academy in Georgia with the #8 overall pick in the 2010 draft, what was certain was that he was a great athlete - he had football scholarship offers from Georgia Tech, Stanford, Ole Miss and Central Florida, mainly as a cornerback or wide receiver. If he didn't get the bonus he wanted, he would go play baseball for LSU. But everyone focused on his position: Centerfield.

DeShields played in 18 games in the 2010 season, thanks to the late signing deadline (he didn't sign until August 5). He got two games for the GCL Astros, and then spent the last three weeks of the season at Rookie-Level Greeneville. Over those 18 games, he hit .289/.337/.395 and made two errors in 31 chances in 15 games in CF for Greeneville.

Already at 2B in the Astros system in 2010 were:

*2009 6th Round pick Enrique Hernandez (.280/.322/.398 for Tri-City)
*Jimmy Paredes, who was acquired the week before DeShields signed from New York in the Lance Berkman trade. Paredes was finishing up a 2010 in which he hit .287/.317/.417 across Charleston (New York's SAL team) and Lexington. He would also play in the outfield and third base, trying to find one that would stick.
*A funny little guy named Jose Altuve, who was finishing 2010 as a 20-year old 2B, hitting .308/.364/.445 in 94 games for Low-A Lexington before hitting .276/.333/.457 in a 31-game stint in High-A Lancaster.
*German Duran, who played 57 games at 2B for Corpus, hitting .284/.336/.383.
*Drew Meyer, who got 60 games at 2B for Round Rock, hitting .257/.341/.364.

Meanwhile, Jeff Keppinger was wrapping up a .288/.351/.393 season in Houston. No one was really standing out. If you were to look at the list and pick the guy to be the future of the Astros at 2B, you would probably look at Altuve, see he was 5'5" and then move on (something the National Media has only recently stopped doing) to Jimmy Paredes. Scouting the SAL's Mike Newman said (after ranking Paredes ahead of Altuve):

One of the best baseball players I’ve seen at the level, Altuve’s small stature had to weigh into my rankings or he would have had a legitimate shot at the top spot. Listed at 5’5″, there’s simply very little precedent for a player of his size becoming a successful pro.

So when the Astros announced that DeShields was moving to second base, it made sense. Put your best athletes in positions of weakness (and this is nothing against any of the aforementioned second basemen).

2011 happened, though. DeShields "hit" .220/.305/.322. He stole 30 bases, but was caught stealing eleven times. He struck out 118 times in 541 plate appearances. Lexington manager Rodney Linares (now DeShields' manager at Lancaster) said not to worry in May, and again in August when he struck out in 34% of his ABs that month. FanGraphs called him the Astros' "most disappointing prospect" of 2011.

2011 also happened for Jose Altuve. He started one level up from DeShields, at Lancaster, and in 52 games hit .408/.451/.606. The Astros promoted him to Corpus at the end of May to see if he was suffering from Engorged Lancasteritis (Baseball America thought so). And then Altuve hit .361/.388/.569 there. But still, nobody could get past his size. Regard:

Baseball America's Jim Callis said that now-Brewer Jean Segura was better than Jose Altuve and it was "not close, despite the little guy's numbers." They also said after the Futures Game that Altuve "looks more like a trophy model than a top prospect."

A week after the 2011 Futures Game, the Astros traded Jeff Keppinger to the Giants, and Jose Altuve was called up. FanGraphs' Eno Sarris put up a post entitled "Jose Altuve's Size: Boon or Bane?" Even when Altuve was hitting .310/.327/.393 at the end of August for Houston, Jim Callis said Altuve "isn't an elite prospect." Rany Jazayerli wrote in September 2011 that Altuve was "your basic David Eckstein starter kit."

2012 started with Altuve in Houston and Delino DeShields repeating Lexington, and he of course exploded. He hit .298/.401/.439 for Lexington, still struck out a bunch (20.7%), but also stole ramped up his walk rate (13.4%) and stole 83 bases in 97 attempts in 111 games. He was promoted to Lancaster to help with the Cal League championship push, and he while he hit .237/.336/.381, he stole 18 more bases to give him 101 on the year. And if it wasn't for Billy Hamilton stealing 6,842 bases last season, he would have been known as the Great Speedster.

Meanwhile, Altuve went from playing in the Futures Game in 2011 to being the Astros' lone All-Star in 2012. He hit .290/.340/.399, stole 33 bases, and became a cult hero in the process.

In five games this season, DeShields is hitting .333/.364/.476. Altuve is the Astros' best hitter so far (.353/.389/.500) and still the media can't get over what a cute little guy he is.

It's hard to project where the Astros go from here. At this rate, you could see DeShields in Corpus at some point this season, and maybe (?) Oklahoma City. So we're likely looking at 2014 before DeShields even sniffs the Majors. An Altuve-esque meteoric rise is unlikely because there wasn't anyone blocking Altuve. The Astros gave Altuve a shot because, well, they were 31-65 when they traded Keppinger and there wasn't any reason not to give Altuve a shot.

There's no reason to make any moves with DeShields, because he's still three levels away from the Majors. There certainly isn't a reason to do anything with Jose Altuve, because he won't be arbitration-eligible until 2015, and won't be a free agent until 2018. He's my candidate for "Most Likely To Get a Long-Term Contract Before Arbitration," but again, there's no really good reason to even make that move.

Should the Astros trade Altuve when his value is incredibly high, they'll get a huge haul, but Fan Disenchantment will reach Epic levels, given his popularity. And everyone will probably get their banana-hammocks in a twist if they do so, because it proves there's NO INTEGRITY in the organization. Altuve is exactly what the Astros have been looking for: Young, Good, and Cheap.

The last 12 months have been great for Delino DeShields, but he's only 26 months younger than Altuve. Nobody predicted Altuve's Major-League success. Hell, nobody predicted that his minor-league success was anything short of a height-induced anomaly - the baseball equivalent of Sideshow Bob. But it makes me wonder if there isn't regret about moving DeShields to second base, at all.


Trevor Harris said...

It is articles like this that make me come back daily to AC. It will be interesting to see what we do with DDJ, but one must keep in mind how far away he is from the major league level. The best case scenario is that he climbs the levels and makes the Astros decide what to do with him and 'tuve.

Also, I am okay with the stripping down of the team, and I know that once the prospects get here it will be better, but trading Jose now would be the end of it for a lot of fans. We have him under such a good contract that it would be beyond crazy to try and trade him for "pieces" without the guarantee that DDJ will succeed.

Seth said...

Trading Jose would not just be a slap in the face to fans, it would be completely illogical.

Jose Altuve is only 2 years and some change older than DDJ. His best comparison through age 22 is Rod Carew according to baseball-reference. Do I think Jose will hit .380 like Carew did? No. Do I think he will be a .300 hitter in his career with 10-15 HRs, 30 SBs, and plus defense. Yes. That is a 4 WAR player at 2nd base

So many people on other blogs and discussion websites just inherently believe that DDJ will supplant Jose at 2nd and Jose will be traded. That is the definition of prospect worship. That is a road that leads to Kansas City Royals or Pittsburg Pirate "type" rebuilding efforts.

Astros County said...

Whoa whoa....the point wasn't to say Let's Trade Altuve, but rather to question the decision to move DDJ to 2B, precisely because Altuve is firmly entrenched there.

Kyle M said...

Love AC, read everything you write but this is my first comment. Who knows, maybe it'll become a habit. (who am I kidding, that takes "effort")

To the point now... there's no way there's any regret re: moving DDJ. Development is all about maximizing value and what he's doing as a 2B is way more valuable than if he were in CF. The fact that he's proven he can do it is huge. There's way too many contingencies when talking 2+ years down the road, but let's assume he's major league ready and for whatever reason Altuve isn't going anywhere... and assuming Springer actually puts his tools into practice...

1) Springer has been described as "maybe able to stick in CF, but would be a plus RF" type. If Luhnow thinks DDJ can move back to CF it would probably make the overall defense better.

2) If Luhnow doesn't think he can switch back, and is locked in on Altuve, then the trade market for DDJ will be that much stronger if he's being sold as a 2B.

You just always keep players in their most valuable position as long as possible. Profar is clearly never going to play SS with the Nolans, but he's staying there until it's absolutely necessary he move somewhere else. Andrus could get hurt or the Marlins could offer Stanton or whatever, but SS > 2B > CF.

The regret would only have come if they moved him to 2B and he fell on his face, leaving them to wonder if development would have been better if they left him in CF. It's safe to sit back and enjoy the bucket-of-win that is DeShields Jr.

Bob Hulsey said...

I don't have a problem with it at all for the reasons stated above. DDJ can always move back to CF with relative ease IF his offense makes him worth putting out there.

The confounding thing about Altuve is that he rarely draws walks at 5-5. He should be taking advantage of his lack of size but he doesn't. If his OBP stays in the low 3s, Jose's not going to be a productive leadoff hitter despite his high average. And, unlike DDJ, there's no position to realistically move Jose to if he can't be a starting second baseman.

I don't think it hurts DDJ to be at 2B because he met yet be the future at that position but his offense needs to be big-league ready before we can pencil him in anywhere.