There's a very short man at a crossroads in the Rangers outfield. Delino DeShields Jr. came to Texas from, uh, somewhere else in Texas during the offseason, and now he's real-live major leaguer. DeShields was a Rule 5 pick, which so far has turned out kind of great for him, since the Rangers need to keep him on the 25-man roster in order to keep him.
DeShields, who at 22 years old had never previously played above Double-A, has had the opportunity to appear in 25 games thus far for the Rangers, which is partially due to the fact that Ryan Rua has been injured, and partially due to the fact that the Rangers have gone from model franchise to festering brain injury in just two years.
You could also argue that this has turned out pretty well for the Rangers. In his limited action, Delino has been pretty good! He's hitting a good bit better than league average, posting a 118 wRC+, good for 18% better than league average. His OBP/SLG slash line is .386/.390, and that does a pretty nice job of pointing out exactly how he's adding value to his team. Turns out, Delino DeShields is a walk machine.
Over his first taste of the big leagues (just 70 PA, as of Thursday afternoon), DDJ has a 15.7% walk rate. You don't need me to tell you that this is high. It's crazy high. Especially for a rookie. Of course, DeShields should not be expected to keep this up forever, but he posted a sharp walk rate in the minors as well. He's always been able to reach base this way, at least.
Back in the minors, DeShields posted a double-digit walk rate nearly everywhere he went. And sure, that walk rate was against pitchers Double-A and lower, but it's still something. The thing is, when you have as many flaws in your game as a player like DeShields does, you need to take every advantage you can get. And it just so happens that Delino's strengths get accentuated the more that he reaches base.
The only plus tool in Delino DeShields Jr.'s arsenal is his speed. He's not a great hitter (either for power or contact), he's never been considered a glove-first player, despite that speed, and his arm is nothing to write home about. Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs slapped a 40 future value (FV) on him as a potential big-league utility guy. You can see why that's the case, especially when examining his current tools from a scouting perspective.
Speed has so often, at least before the sabermetric "revolution", been the hallmark of a leadoff hitter. But without the ability to reach base, we've learned that speed doesn't necessarily play. It's relatively simple: the more times that a hitter gets on base, the more chances they have to affect a game with their speed -- either by stealing bases or just taking extra ones.
Delino DeShields Jr. has proven to be a relatively savvy baserunner in his brief run in the bigs, as well. He's posted 11 stolen bases and been caught only once. His UBR totals have him in the positive, and FanGraphs has him worth about two runs due to his feet. Sure, he's Prince Fielder's designated pinch-runner / the Jerome to his Morris Day, but he's come in to run on only six occasions this season. It's not like he's been held on the bench for emergency all April / May long.
If you take a quick look at the guys who have double-digit walk rates and good speed, but also aren't very good overall hitters, you get a list with names like Jacoby Ellsbury, Ian Kinsler*, Rajai Davis, and Dexter Fowler. These guys are all perfectly competent offensive players ... perhaps with the exception of Davis, who is playing a little over his head right now. This is the tier of players with which DeShields' current offensive production fits, and it's a tier that could make him not just a good ML regular, but an actual value for Texas.
* - Remember when Ian Kinsler was an elite hitter? Good times!
Fowler might be the best overall comp for DeShields right now, as they both share somewhat of a poor defensive reputation. Make no mistake, Fowler is -- and probably will continue to be -- a better overall hitter than DeShields. But both probably belong in an outfield corner sooner rather than later, and both project to strike out nearly twice as often as they walk.
Comps aside, I imagine that the best way you can get your speed to play up -- in an offensive context, at least -- is by pairing it with the ability to get on base. And given that DeShields has shown that he probably doesn't have much of a chance to hit in the big leagues (well, up until this season), he's probably got the right idea by walking so much.
Not every ballplayer has the tools to succeed. Some players need to find ways to make those tools play up, whether it's by developing complementary skills, or refining some aspect of their game, or just being put in the right position to succeed.
I get it. There's no place for DeShields to be considered a high-value prospect ... or really much of a major-leaguer at all when you just look at tools. He flashes some hit and raw at times, but hardly in a consistent fashion. His makeup has been said to be questionable.
Perhaps there are other skills that allow players to get the most out of their limited tools. Maybe we can use StatCast data to find a way to make sure-gloved fielders (tool) get the right positioning (skill)? Maybe we convert more fringy guys with a laser arm (tool) behind the plate sooner than later (skill ... ish)?
But the fact that DeShields -- who had gone from top draft pick to disappointment, to afterthought, to Rule 5 pickup -- is now at least showing the short-term future of a big-league regular ... that's pretty neat. It's a testament to how players can succeed in spite of their limitations. Scouting tools -- while valuable -- don't always have to tell the whole story of a player's future.
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Bryan Grosnick is the Lead Writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @bgrosnick.