When Christopher Nolan dropped Inception on us few years back, my mind was blown. It wasn’t blown in a stoner-esque “Wow that was deep…” kind of way (how most people reacted to the film). It wasn’t in a film-nerd “Christopher Nolan is the best director ever…” kind of way. It wasn’t even in an “Ellen Page is pretty hot…” kind of way.
It was in an “I can’t believe the kid from Angels in the Outfield somehow became an A-list actor” kind of way.
Yes, Joseph Gordon-Levitt had already been making an adult name for himself, putting his child-actor-best-known-for-his-role-on-3rd-Rock-From-The-Sun days in the very distant rearview with roles in several critically acclaimed and big-budget movies, but it’s almost like we collectively weren’t paying attention- until BAM! There he was in one of the biggest movies of the year, alongside some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, and he was still doing his thing and making you notice! He was announcing himself to the world while also telling us that he’d been here forever.
Enter Ian Desmond, starting shortstop for the now trendy Washington Nationals. The Nats (#natitude) are more loaded than Lindsay Lohan. We all know the names: Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman, Gio Gonzalez, Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche, and, of course, Bryce Harper. These are all guys who played a big part in bringing playoff baseball to the capital city for the first time since FDR was in office.
Yet none of the position players named above was having a better season than Ian Desmond, before oblique and hamstring injuries slowed him down and caused him to miss games. Even with the injuries Desmond was a 20/20 player in roughly 130 games and garnered a few MVP votes in the offseason.
The knock on Desmond is that he walks less than Roseanne Barr (only 30 BB last year) and strikes out more than my 18-month-old son (113 last year, 139 the year before). That’s all good and well, but we’re talking about a player who is only 27 (prime of his career) and can work on discipline at the plate. But searching for the faults of a player who batted .292, slugged .511, and drove in 73 R from the SS position is like finding faults on a supermodel. They exist, but you’re ignoring the big picture.
It’s actually shocking that nobody mentions Desmond when the cliché “best shortstop in baseball” conversation comes around (Troy Tulowitzki fanatics, save your outrage…your boy’s officially injury prone now), but he certainly belongs right in the middle of it, especially after finding his power stroke this past season. On this team, with this lineup, at this age, Desmond’s primed to improve on last season’s numbers across the board. If he stays healthy (and last season appeared to be a health anomaly in comparison to prior seasons) we’re looking at a guy who is going to make a run for ‘best fantasy shortstop’ at the very least.
And we haven’t even gotten to the best thing about Desmond- he’s a value pick! In fantasy circles he’s not yet regarded in the same way his peers are, so you can find him available much later in your drafts than the other usual suspects (who all have glaring flaws or red flags, by the way). Picking Desmond in your fantasy draft is the ultra-hipster move. You’re telling your colleagues that you’re in on something that they’re too passé to know about. You might as well grow some ironic facial hair and find some thick-rimmed glasses, too.
Going into this year, I think we’ll see Desmond’s average continue to hover in the .290 range with a slight uptick in his SB count (last season’s hammy issues will be a thing of the past) and with his lineup spot behind some really good OBP guys, we’ll see a slight increase in his RBI count, too. The only unknown quantity will be his home run total. Was last season a blip or a sign of things to come? Given his age and improved approach, I think we’re looking at baseball’s next 30 HR shortstop. It might not happen this year, but it’ll happen very soon. Even if he falls back closer to the 18-20 range, he’s still a stud. Assuming he’s going to swing for the fences a little more frequently, it’s a safe bet that his strikeout totals are what they are, but the walks could begin to climb as he becomes a little more feared.
At the end of this season, I predict Desmond will go all Joseph Gordon-Levitt on us and make us collectively say “Where the hell did he come from?”
The truth of the matter: he was already there; we’re just going to notice this year.
Chris’ 2013 Projection: 74 R, 27 HR, 82 RBI, 32 SB, .288 BA