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Desmond ready to take over at shortstop

Desmond ready to take over at shortstop

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When the name Ian Desmond comes up in a conversation, the feelings in the Nationals organization are mixed when it comes to his abilities on the field.

One front-office person believes Desmond needs a half season in the Minors before making another appearance at Nationals Park. His belief is that the 24-year-old needs to improve his defense at shortstop. Desmond has a reputation of making spectacular plays look easy, but has problems making the routine plays.

Desmond took exception to the scouting report.

"I feel totally comfortable at shortstop," Desmond said via phone. "Go back to any Spring Training I've been in, I've always played good defense. I've been solid. I felt like I've played very well.

"I played very good when I went to the big leagues, I thought. When the routine ball came to me, I felt like I made the plays. I'll be the first to admit, I'll make errors on crazy plays that most people wouldn't even try to make."

Manager Jim Riggleman, on the other hand, is confident in Desmond. Riggleman loves Desmond's energy on the field.

"I don't know if Desmond will be the shortstop, but as I stand here right now, I would be happy with it, because I know what kind of effort I'm going to get," Riggleman said last November. "I know the energy that he brings to the team. I know how athletic he is. I'm excited about Desmond's future. He has a future somewhere. It might be this [coming] year."

Desmond agrees with Riggleman, of course. In fact, Desmond went so far to say that he is ready to be Washington's starting shortstop this coming season.

"I feel I'm confident about my abilities to play. I think I bring a lot to a team," Desmond said. "I feel like I play hard and bring passion to the game. I feel like I'm a pretty translucent guy. You get what you see. I pretty much put everything out there. ... I want to be up in the big leagues all year. I think they have something special going on."

Desmond is coming off his best professional season, hitting a combined .321 with 11 home runs and 44 RBIs. His biggest highlight of 2009 came on Sept. 10. Desmond made his Major League debut, went 2-for-4, drove in four runs and helped the Nationals edge the Phillies, 8-7.

Prior to this past season, Desmond never hit above .264 during his first five years in professional baseball. Desmond acknowledged he was overmatched during that period, but things started to click when he played in the Arizona Fall League in 2008. Coaches such as Troy Gingrich, Rick Eckstein and Devon White taught Desmond the proper way to hit a baseball.

"In the past, I was always skeptical of what I could do," Desmond said. "People said, 'Hey, you are going to be really good. You have what it takes.' I heard it, but I never believed it. Then I went out to Arizona and I put up some decent numbers. I surprised myself in Arizona. I started to realize the things that I could do. I was hitting balls hard. I was like, 'Wow, that felt really good.'

"Troy and Devon wanted to see my most comfortable stance. I showed them what I wanted to do. Troy had his ideas and Devon had his. Rick tried to polish it all up. Rick said things that made me understand more than what other people had taught me in the past. His delivery made it click for me. Everyone told me I had to get off my back foot. I didn't know what that meant until I meant Rick."

Thanks to the teachings of Gingrich, Eckstein and White, Desmond is confident that his hitting will carry over into this coming season.

"I believe in myself now. We are going to move forward from all the negativity in the past," Desmond said.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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