A friend pointed me the other day to something Dwight Gooden just published online, a short 900-word essay he called “Letter to My Younger Self.” It’s very good.
Naturally, when I read the following paragraph . . .
Eighty percent of your drive will come from your desire to make dad proud, while the other 20 percent will be for you. Do your best to flip those numbers around, otherwise his absence will cause you to spiral. There are steps you can take to stop this decline, but you’ll have to discover them the hard way.
. . . I thought about me and my Dad, and me and my kids, and then, because I can’t help it (and because I’d been teeing up a story on him anyway), I thought about Delino DeShields Jr., and his father, the greater part of whose big league career overlapped with the greater part of Gooden's.
It would be silly to call the older DeShields’s big league career, which lasted 13 seasons and included more than 1,500 base hits and over 450 stolen bases, a disappointment, considering that by the time he was the age his son is today, he’d been runner-up for National League Rookie of the Year and was halfway into his second season as Montreal’s everyday leadoff hitter and second baseman, a year in which he would hit 10 home runs, walk 95 times, and steal 56 bags.
But Delino Sr., in those 13 seasons, would hit more homers just once, would never again steal as many bases or draw nearly as many walks, and would never make an All-Star Team or win a single playoff game with any of the five clubs he played for.
The lead bullet point detailing his career was that he was traded, at age 24, for a 22-year-old Dodgers middle reliever named Pedro Martinez.
Delino Sr. was a high school kid taken with the 12th overall pick in the draft in 1987 (seven picks before Texas took Brian Bohanon).
Delino Jr. was a high school kid taken 8th overall in 2010 (seven picks before Texas took Jake Skole, whose Georgia hometown was 20 minutes from DeShields’s). Keith Law (ESPN) had him falling to the Rangers, but Houston didn’t let that happen.
Five years earlier, Baseball America had named Delino Jr. the top 12-year-old baseball player in the world (ahead of, among others, Bryce Harper), calling him “a game changer both at the plate and on the bases, with a combination of raw power and speed.” One national high school scout suggested to BA that he was the fastest 12-year-old he’d ever seen, and one of the strongest.
And yet, after the Astros invested that high first-round pick and five years of player development on the younger DeShields, not to mention the $2.15 million signing bonus, they not only left him unprotected in advance of this winter’s Rule 5 Draft — but, leaving one spot open on their 40-man roster so they could participate in the draft, took Class A righthander Jason Garcia and promptly traded him to Baltimore for cash. According to the Houston Chronicle, the Orioles paid the Astros $75,000 for the rights to Garcia, with $50,000 of that cost going to Boston as the draft fee.
So Houston, obviously in a building phase and in no position to be making decisions to reduce its inventory of young players with upside, kept its 40th roster spot vacant rather than protecting DeShields — and used that empty spot to add a meaningless $25,000 to the club coffers.
Maybe the Astros will get DeShields back, without having to take up a roster spot. But DeShields and his new team clearly hope not.
One of the reasons the Gooden piece made me think of DeShields was that first line I pasted here, about the idea of playing for your father, or for yourself. Even when Baseball America was projecting DeShields as an early-to-mid-first-rounder out of high school, they routinely paired with talk about his loud tools the common sentiment that he played with “low-energy body language [that] put off some scouts,” and there were occasional whispers questioning his effort and his makeup. When DeShields was days away from being drafted at age 17, BA went so far as to suggest that, “[l]ike many big league progeny, DeShields doesn’t play with a ton of energy.”
Gooden’s letter made me think about that.
To be fair, it was probably production more than any questions about DeShields’s effort between the lines that led to his exposure to the Rule 5 Draft this month. After a record-setting 2012, when he became the first player in minor league history to hit more than 10 home runs (12) and steal more than 100 bases (101) in a season, followed by a .317/.405/.468 breakout year with High A Lancaster in 2013, he hit only .236 and OPS’d just .706 last year with Corpus Christi, a season that was marred in mid-April by a Phil Klein fastball that fractured his face and cost him three weeks on the shelf. Houston had tried moving him from center field to second base after his draft season, but when that didn’t completely take, he returned to center field in 2014, and while there’s probably more promise there defensively (even if his arm will never be a weapon), it wasn’t the cleanest transition.
DeShields was ranked by BA as Houston’s number two prospect after the 2010 season.
Number eight after 2011.
Number six after 2012.
Number 13 after 2013.
Bet the publication has him lower than that after the 2014 season. He was definitely outside the Astros’ top 10 before the Rangers drafted him away.
DeShields has always run — in his last three seasons he has 101, 51, and 54 steals, at an excellent 80 percent success rate — but in order to stick in the big leagues all year with the Rangers, which he’s required to do (or else Texas will have to run him through waivers and, if he clears, offer him back to Houston for half the $50,000 draft fee), he’ll need to be more than a late-inning baserunner. He’ll need to catch the ball, do something with the bat, and never let the Rangers question his energy, or his effort.
There’s a huge opportunity here for Delino Jr.
And for Texas.
As Stefan Stevenson (Fort Worth Star-Telegram) put it, “DeShields has something to prove. And it’s a trait manager Jeff Banister loves to see because it reminds him of himself.” Banister, reflecting on his own career, told Stevenson: “I was that guy. I didn’t reach the level of what these guys have, but I know when you have something to prove and have that burning desire inside of you you’re going to be the guy that pushes yourself. You don’t typically need a lot of other people pushing you along.”
You don’t want to make too much of the two home runs DeShields hit in the Puerto Rican Winter League the day after Texas drafted him, but this is a player who also went deep twice in his first game back after the Klein beaning (this is not a fun house mirror image), and was the MVP of the PRWL All-Star Game a few days before Texas called his name. Maybe he’s the type who’s at his best when the spotlight glare gets brighter.
We’re about to find out.
Baseball America, which has long thrown red flags up on DeShields as a prospect, did call him “[m]aybe [the] most talented position player available” in the Rule 5 Draft after the Rangers used the third overall pick on him. And while the publication suggested “he has everyday starter potential if he comes close to tapping into his potential,” the follow-up comment was that “[s]ome scouts are skeptical he ever will, as they have been turned off by his consistent lack of effort.” BA’s conclusion was that his chances to stick with the Rangers all season are low.
There’s that effort thing again — Daniels acknowledged to local reporters shortly after the draft that “[w]e’re aware of that . . . [h]e’s got a unique opportunity and we’ll sit down and talk about our expectations” — and right now I’m thinking about a dozen eye-to-eye conversations between Banister and DeShields.
And just as many between Jayce Tingler and DeShields.
And a couple between Michael Young and DeShields.
And one between Russell Wilson and DeShields.
Minutes after the draft, Banister tweeted: “If you’re the greatest, someone [else] wants to be the greatest, and so if you’re not constantly improving your game, somebody else is . . . . Every single day, someone’s coming for your job, coming for your greatness.” It doesn’t take a Newberg Report-esque stretch to connect the Banister tweet with the move his club had just made to acquire a new candidate to back up Leonys Martin and give him a versatile weapon off the bench.
After years of DeShields as the high-profile, high-first-round, baseball progeny whose job someone else was coming after, now he’s the other guy, doing the chasing. Maybe that’s exactly the situation he needs, the one that brings out the best in him, that sets the stage for a little potential fulfillment. In Arlington.
Delino Sr., looking to get back to the big leagues in a new role, reportedly turned down Paul Molitor’s offer a month ago to serve as Twins first base coach, opting to remain as a manager in the Reds organization. He’ll join AAA Louisville in 2015, after managing at lower levels in the Cincinnati system from 2010 through 2014.
Interestingly, Delino Sr. managed rookie ball in 2010, his first year managing, the same year Delino Jr. started his pro career, also in rookie ball.
In 2011, both father and son spent the year in Low A.
In 2012, both were in Class A.
In 2013, the Reds moved Dad to AA, while Delino Jr. repeated High A.
In 2014, father and son both toiled in AA.
In 2015, Delino Sr. turned a big league opportunity down. Delino Jr. will get his first.
Six months ago — really, six weeks ago — the safe bet would have been that Dad would have gotten back to the Major Leagues before Junior got there himself.
It’s widely believed that Delino Sr., who just finished managing the Arizona Fall League’s Surprise Saguaros, which included the Rangers’ AFL delegation, will eventually manage in the big leagues. Maybe his ultimate big league legacy is yet to be written, after a playing career that was supposed to turn out better than it did.
I wonder what Delino DeShields Sr.’s “Letter to My Younger Self” would look like.
Or his letter to his 22-year-old namesake.
But not as much as I’m imagining the message Delino Jr. will be getting, over and over again, from any number of people in Rangers uniforms between now and the end of March, when a big decision will need to be made. I’d like to think it’s a message he’ll get loud and get clear, and that he’s going to grab this opportunity, put some things together in Surprise, and make his last organization regret using that last November roster spot not on its former first-round pick but instead on 30 seconds on the draft clock it basically sold for $25,000.