(Photo: Jerome Miron, USA TODAY Sports)
2020 season age: 27 – Throws: R- Bats: R – Contract: – 1 year/$1.875 mil (ARB 2)
2019 in review: With the Texas Rangers, DeShields played in 118 games, although he started in just 94, all in centerfield, and hit .249/.325/.347 with 24 steals in 30 chances. He hit four homers, four triples and 25 doubles. He had a .702 OPS in the first half but struggled to the tune of a .519 in the second half.
Beyond the stats: DeShields Jr. was in the 97th percentile in both sprint speed and Outs Above Average in 2019 along with being in the 74th percentile in outfield jump. He was 12 outs above average last year and in 2018 and excelled at going to his left, (back-left +3, in-left +4) which bodes well for working in center at Progressive Field. DeShields Jr. was only a centerfielder in Texas and based on some comments around Tribe Fest, it sounds like there’s a chance he’ll push Oscar Mercado to a corner (for better or for worse). Left-center generally seems like the most tricky area of the Progressive Field wall given the angle of the wall and being the deepest part of the ballpark. If he does play a lot in center, his ability to play to his left, once he learns the park more, could be a big help defensively.
Offensive impact: A .325 OBP and his steals are about what DeShields offers offensively. He was second percentile in exit velocity 2019 and fifth in hard hit rate, so making an impact with the bat hasn’t been his forte. His walk rate looks like it’ll hold the OBP fairly even and his speed don’t make a .333 BABIP unrepeatable. DeShields Jr. had eight bunt hits last year and had a .533 OBP on those. So prepare to see more bunting in 2020 if DeShields plays in 90-plus games here.
Defensive impact: Fangraphs’ DRS agrees with StatCast’s Outs Above Average on DeShield’s defensive abilities. He was credited with +6 DRS in 2019 and was +9 in 2018. He hasn’t played left field since 2017 but was +5 there in DRS. He’s a plus defender in center and would be just as good in left field. It sounds like he’ll get time in center in spite of Mercado looking more comfortable in center last year. It definitely sounds like the Indians are going to work DeShields into the outfield rotation somehow. He’ll certainly at least come in as a defensive replacement for Franmil Reyes at times he plays the outfield, which is where DeShields makes his most impact. If anything, with he and Mercado in the same outfield, the Indians can be elite defensively.
2020 role: The comments mentioned by the Indians at Tribe Fest, calling Mercado “an everyday outfielder somewhere” makes it seem like they don’t want to commit to him in center because of DeShields. You can probably bet on 80-100 starts in the outfield as of now, probably all in center unless it clearly doesn’t work. He’ll probably serve as the Rajai Davis type role, although even at a .325 OBP, you’d like to see DeShields run more than 30 times. Perhaps he will, depending on where he hits in the lineup. He might hit in the bottom of the order and hitting in front of Francisco Lindor might limit his running chances in order to not take the bat out of his hand.
Fantasy impact: If you need steals, DeShields should net you 20-25 this year. He’s not going to contribute anywhere else offensively. If he can repeat 2017 and 2019, he won’t hurt your average and won’t hurt you in OBP leagues, but he’s strictly only rosterable if you need cheap steals and have other hitters that can carry his lack of average and power. Even so, he’s probably only draftable in deeper leagues, perhaps even AL only leagues. Keep on eye on his role this spring to see what kind of at bats he’s going to get. In 100 starts he’d probably tally 25 steals again easily. But you’d have to be really filling out the back end of your roster with a desperate need for steals.