In this year's Arizona Fall League, Astros prospect Delino DeShields is showing why he was the club's first-round selection in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft.
DeShields has a combination of speed and hitting ability that projects him to be a top-of-the-order table-setter and run producer. He has the tools to beat the opposition with his bat or his legs.
Perhaps DeShields' extreme athletic ability was helped by the gene pool. His dad, Delino DeShields, had a fine 13-year career as a big league second baseman. But the younger DeShields -- No. 7 on the Astros' Top 20 Prospects list, according to MLB.com -- is a different player than his dad. He has an identity of his own.
The elder DeShields played at 6-foot-1, 170 pounds. The younger Delino is 5-foot-9, 205 pounds. His physical presence belies his speed.
The current edition has an extremely strong upper body and shortish legs. He has the look of a football linebacker. In fact, he played football as well as baseball in his Georgia high school days.
DeShields hit .415 with nine home runs and 29 stolen bases as a senior. Instead of going to one of the many colleges he considered, he instead became a Houston Astro after they selected him eighth overall.
DeShields began his career playing center field for Class A Greeneville in the Appalachian League. That was the last time he played center in the Astros' system. Until now.
DeShields has returned to center field after playing three seasons at second base. I really like what I've seen of him so far in the Peoria Javelinas' outfield. More about that later.
At the plate, DeShields is selective and patient in his approach. He "gets it." He knows the value of working a pitcher deep into the count and accepting a walk so he can best utilize his speed. This past season, at Class A Advanced Lancaster, he walked 57 times in 534 trips to the plate. The walks and his 143 hits resulted in 51 stolen bases. He had 25 doubles, 14 triples and five home runs, contributing to his fine .317 batting average.
Of his statistics this past season, the number of triples is especially noteworthy. A triple is a rare and exciting accomplishment. It requires a drive to a deep part of the ballpark, speed to navigate the bases, and good instincts and discipline to read the coach's instructions. But that's the type of player I have seen in DeShields. He has a complete package of skills that complement his baseball intelligence and instincts. It's impressive to watch.
Using a short, compact swing, DeShields makes good contact. His swing is rather flat, resulting in sharp line drives as opposed to fly balls. With his speed, that's an ideal approach. Line drives have a way of clearing the outfield wall if hit with enough authority. I believe that will happen. But I don't believe that's what DeShields intends with his hitting mechanics.
DeShields doesn't really get much of his trunk into his swing, depending more on his upper body and fast hands to drive the ball to all fields. I've seen him take pitches to deep center field with his barrel-of-the-bat approach.
Defensively, DeShields doesn't look the part of a center fielder. Looks can be deceiving.
He reads the ball off the bat extremely well. I have been quite surprised at the excellent routes he has taken in the difficult high Arizona sky. He has speed to close on balls in the air and enough athletic ability to handle balls hit off the wall while covering the gaps. His speed will be an asset in playing the difficult Tal's Hill at Minute Maid Park. However, if there is any deficiency in his outfield play, it is mediocre arm strength.
Billy Hamilton, perhaps the fastest player in baseball, recently made the transition from the infield to the outfield. Players like Hamilton and DeShields have the athletic ability, speed and agility to master a new, more unfamiliar role.
DeShields should bring high energy and excitement to the Astros when he finishes his development. He is progressing extremely well.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff; on Twitter.