One of the marks of Spring Training -- and the related anticipation of the new season beginning -- is the constant chatter that comes with each Spring Training game.
As fans, we love to see what our favorite prospects are doing against fringe and Major League level pitching. You either love to see Joey Gallo's monstrous home runs, or you're lying.
Beyond that, we end up overanalyzing the small sample sizes that come with these games. Just because Nomar Mazara has an OPS over 1.000 doesn't mean he's ready to break camp with the Rangers. No, Prince Fielder hasn't morphed into the second coming of 2013 Lance Berkman. And for that matter, what do we really know about Delino DeShields?
DeShields, a Rule 5 pick by Texas in 2015, ended up playing significant time for Texas and earning leadoff duties before all was said and done. His raw speed confounded even Troy Tulowitzski in the playoffs on an infield single that Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs had timed at 3.7 seconds from contact to first base.
As Sullivan also pointed out, for perspective, 4.0 for a right-handed and 3.9 for a left-hander are considered an "8" on the scouting scale, which would place him in the top echelon of speedsters in the history of baseball.
Knowing that, it's no wonder that DeShields has run his way into the hearts of many Rangers fans. We all love when our players show things like "hustle" and "grit", so when we see a player go all-out to make the run to first base, it's imprinted on our minds more than, say, a player who hits a single to left field and is able to briskly jog to the base.
Getting back to the matter at hand, Texas has shown that, at least for the time being, they're plenty happy with DeShields being their starting CF. Leonys Martin was sent to Seattle in the offseason, and the front office reportedly refused to get a deal done with Austin Jackson because he wanted to play CF.
So where does that leave us? We know this: DeShields posted a .718 OPS in 2015 in 492 plate appearances. His wOBA was .317, or just above the 2015 league-average of .313. He can steal bases, and he's going to manage to get on base with his fair share of walks.
However, there is one major area that DeShields could afford to improve on: Making contact. Growing up playing little league, one of the most inaccurate statements almost universally made by coaches was "a walk is as good as a hit". On the surface, that may sound like great advice. And no one is knocking walks, if that's what the pitcher ends up giving. However, you're likely not going to see a walk advancing a baserunner from first to third, or keeping the double play out of the realm of possibilities by moving a runner from second to third.
So we know that. And we know that Delino DeShields hasn't been a high-contact player either in his brief Major League career or in the minor leagues. Truth be told, DeShields needs to improve a bit on his .344 OBP as the leadoff hitter. His walk rate of 10.8% is actually considered above average, so you'd like that to at least stay where it is. That leaves making more contact as his option for increasing his OBP.
To his credit, DeShields says he has the goal of reaching base 200 times and scoring 100 runs. That would seem to be a great goal to have, but to make it happen, he'll need to put the bat on the ball a bit more. With his speed, even light contact could result in more singles than the average hitter.
Beyond his offensive skill set, the other direction I wanted to go with this is the future of DeShields in Texas. More specifically, does he have one beyond 2016? To be sure, he needs to improve a bit in the outfield, which is something that we'll hopefully see in the converted infielder in his second season. However, we know that Nomar Mazara and Lewis Brinson are both players that Texas is very high on. Brinson, for his part, profiles as a CF, which would likely slide DeShields over to LF. And who knows if Ian Desmond is in Texas longer than a year anyway?
After that, however, Mazara profiles as a corner outfielder, and with Shin-Soo Choo in RF, that leaves DeShields without a position. Barring the Rangers trading Choo, he's not going anywhere; he's got the contract to prove it. So is DeShields the fourth outfielder?
Much of that could hinge on exactly what Josh Hamilton is able to do -- if anything -- in 2016. Hamilton will be under contract through 2017, and the Angels are paying for most of his contract. There may come a time when Texas has to decide whether Hamilton or DeShields provide more value for the ball club in 2017.
At the end of the day, this is a good problem for Texas to have: A surplus of outfield talent that allows them to select the best man for the job. With that said, the organization seems to be high on both Mazara and Brinson -- and rightly so -- and barring a trade of Choo and his high-dollar contract, you'd figure that those three would be the starting outfield as soon as 2017. And for the life of me, I can't figure out where that might leave Delino DeShields. He could become the leadoff hitter the Rangers would love to keep in that position, but more likely, I could see him being the fourth outfielder, or even on another team by the beginning of 2017.