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Versatile Desmond adapts to challenges at first

MLB.com @boomskie

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Ian Desmond sat in front of his cubicle in the Rockies' clubhouse at Salt River Fields on Friday morning for almost an hour working on his new first baseman's glove. Even in the corridor outside the spacious room, one could hear the pounding of a mallet inside the pocket of the glove.

"He's a craftsman," new Rockies manager Bud Black said.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Ian Desmond sat in front of his cubicle in the Rockies' clubhouse at Salt River Fields on Friday morning for almost an hour working on his new first baseman's glove. Even in the corridor outside the spacious room, one could hear the pounding of a mallet inside the pocket of the glove.

"He's a craftsman," new Rockies manager Bud Black said.

Desmond is also Colorado's new first baseman, a position he's attempting to play for the first time, although he was not in the lineup Friday against Cleveland at Goodyear Ballpark. The Rockies signed Desmond as a free agent last December to a five-year, $70 million guaranteed contract (with a $15 million club option for 2022) because they were looking for the best ballplayer and athlete available, Black said.

Video: Harding on Desmond's veteran presence

"It's a work in progress," Desmond told MLB.com after playing four games at the right-side corner. "There's been a couple of good ones, and I've had some tough plays. I'll take everything. Luckily I've done this before, so I know there are going to be some lumps."

This is the second time in as many seasons Desmond has had to learn a new position with a new team. It doesn't matter, he said.

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"If this is where they need me right now, great," Desmond said. "I just want to be on a good team, be a part of something special and contribute."

Here's Desmond's recent history: He came up with the Nationals, and for seven seasons, he was a slick-fielding shortstop with a powerful arm. Two years ago, as Desmond struggled through his walk year with Washington, metrics showed that he made the fastest throw from short to first of anyone in the Major Leagues.

Desmond batted .233 that season, and when the Rangers signed him last year near the end of February to a one-year, $8 million contract, they moved him to left field. Midway through the season, he was shifted to center.

Video: Desmond on spring, preparing for 2017

Desmond's slash line of .285/.335/.446 -- plus 22 homers, 86 RBIs and a .782 OPS -- made him a hot commodity this time on the free-agent market.

At 31, Desmond proved that he still had agility on the field and a flexible mindset, both necessary commodities, considering the way the game's evolving, particularly in the National League with 13- or 14-man pitching staffs and no designated hitter.

"We were looking for a good baseball player, a guy who fit our team," Black said. "Talent first. Being a ballplayer. A complete player. And with the five-year deal moving forward, it gives us some flexibility if something happens on the club -- an injury, a trade, free agency. Here's a guy who's played the middle of the diamond, has played the outfield. We can move him."

A good example is the way Cubs manager Joe Maddon uses Ben Zobrist and Kris Bryant. Both players shift back and forth from the infield to the outfield, sometimes in the context of the same game.

Desmond, rubbing some ointment in the new glove, said he's ready for anything at this point.

First base is not any easy position, he's learning. There are pickoff moves, bunt plays, relays, learning to play the angle of the ball off the bat on the right side -- after a life of doing it on the left side.

"All these things I've never done before. Everything about it is brand new, literally," Desmond said. "I'm just trying to work out the intricacies, trying to build instincts as much as I can."

When Alex Rodriguez briefly worked out at first in his final years with the Yankees, he couldn't adapt to the move from the third base. The fact is, a first baseman must play so much closer to the plate when a runner is on first. At third, A-Rod was always so much farther off the bag.

The most difficult part of the adjustment thus far for Desmond?

"Just the timing of it," he said. "Center field, shortstop, those were a little more middle-of-the-field spots. I've never played a legit infield corner before. The ball comes a little quicker, so you have less time. That's something I have to get used to."

Desmond will get used to it and undoubtedly be pretty good at it before Spring Training is done.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter.

Colorado Rockies, Ian Desmond