Monday, July 05, 2010

Jim Riggleman's & Tim Foli's Thoughts On Ian Desmond

After a fast start to his rookie season, Ian Desmond has settled down of late. At times struggling with his fielding errors at shortstop, Our Washington Nationals athletic and acrobatic 24-year old is finding out that Major League pitchers are also adjusting to his plate appearances. That should be understood as part of the Big League learning process. Surprisingly though--some have been calling for Our Number 6 to be benched--even sent to the Minor Leagues for more seasoning. This after so many called for Ian Desmond to replace Cristian Guzman at shortstop to begin the 2010 season--overwhelmingly.

You can't have it both ways.

For better or for worse, Ian Desmond is getting his chance to become the everyday shortstop for Our Washington Nationals this season. Nats320 set out to find out more about what Our Manager Jim Riggleman--and Special Instructor--Tim Foli, both feel about D.C.'s rookie shortstop's first full half-season of Major League Baseball. Foli might be the perfect person to talk with about Ian Desmond. Tim was the Number One Overall Pick in the 1968 Amateur Draft. He was a Major League shortstop for 16 seasons. And he coached and managed Ian through a few seasons of minor league baseball since 2005--including Desmond's final AAA stop at Syracuse in 2009.

With that here we go with Jim Riggleman's and Tim Foli's thoughts on Ian Desmond's development:

Nats320: Jim, we want to ask you about Ian Desmond. Can you assess him as a rookie player from spring training until now? As a coach and a manager, what can your staff do to help him reduce his errors defensively--without hindering his athletic ability or acrobatic style?

Jim Riggleman: I think we came into the season saying he might make 27 errors. He might make 37 errors. We don’t know how many he is going to make, but we know the upside is worth it. If it’s 30 plus, then next year it will be 22 or something like that. And the next year it will be 14. We’ve seen a lot of guys do that. (Omar) Vizquel did it, Ozzie Smith--all the great ones--they made some errors their first year and then, for whatever reason, it’s a part of being a young shortstop who has that type of athleticism. So, we don’t really do anything. We just continue hitting him ground balls, which is what we do with all the guys. We tell them to concentrate and be prepared from pitch to pitch. Our (pitching) staff is going to put the ball into play. Other than (Stephen) Strasburg and (Tyler) Clippard, everybody we throw out there (on the mound), the ball is going to be in play. There are not going to be that many strikeouts. So be prepared every pitch that the ball may come to you and you know what you are going to do with it. We keep pounding that into him (Desmond) and everybody else. But we are OK with his error total because we know that he makes plays that other people can’t make.

Nats320: So you are comfortable that when he gets more comfortable the errors will come down?

Jim Riggleman: Yeah. It’s going to project out to whatever it will be this year (the errors). But in the years ’11 and ’12 you will see less and less.

Now on to Tim Foli--Our Washington Nationals Quality Control Coach for 2010. Considered one of the best teachers in the organization, Tim is on hand before every game for batting practice and is a sounding board for both Jim Riggleman and Our General Manager Mike Rizzo.

Nats320: You are probably the best person to talk to about Ian Desmond and his development since you were very active in his minor league career as a coach and manager. He’s very acrobatic and very athletic, but he’s still prone to errors--is there anything as his coach--you can do to bring those totals down?

Tim Foli: If you look at all the great shortstops coming up in the minor leagues or in their first year or two in the big leagues, they all make a lot of errors. And he is not any different, he’s going to make errors. But he is so special, he’s got great range. He’s got great hands. And athletic ability that not many people have and an absolute cannon for an arm. So we are so excited about him and the energy he brings every day out there on the field. You can look by some of his errors because they happen and they are going to happen. It’s a part of the learning process. Mentally, he is going to get better and stronger--and I am just so excited for his career.

Nats320: Then do you believe the cutting down on his errors will come from being more comfortable in the field or understanding more about the Major League hitters he is defending against?

Tim Foli: Well, it is a little bit of everything. The understanding of what balls you can get to, the speed of the runners, the timing of the game. There are a million things that can happen which effect the outcome when you play shortstop every day, but we all went through it. For 16 years I played in the Major Leagues, 14 as a regular shortstop. And I did the same things. I made some throwing errors I shouldn’t have made because I threw balls that I shouldn’t have. I made some errors fielding balls that probably I didn’t have a play--but I wanted to make the play. So he’s just got to stay aggressive and, yeah, he will work through those. He’s such a talent that everyone should be excited to watch his progress.

Nats320: But there is nothing you would do, or the team is looking to do, to change him in any way?

Tim Foli: Absolutely not. Like you said, he’s just got to learn the hitters, the league, the situation--who runs fast, who doesn’t. When can I make a play? When is it time to cut the damage down? When to get one (out) when you can’t get two--make sure of one. The things that on the job training is going to help him improve. But athletic wise, there is nobody better.

Nats320: You’ve seen him for quite a few years in the minors, how has he progressed?

Tim Foli: There is no question he has progressed. He’s always been athletic and acrobatic while making all the great plays. Now, he’s starting to make the routine play better and better--and understanding more what his job is out there. If he gets to any ball, he can throw you out. That rifle of an arm gives him that confidence. “Dunner” (Adam Dunn) is always telling him to take a little off because he fires it.

Nats320: Are you surprised at his hitting prowess in the clutch as a rookie?

Tim Foli: No. No, he’s a big kid. He’s a grown man. He’s strong and he’s got great hand/eye coordination. He’s worked hard on an approach that will be consistent for him. It’s really just a matter of getting good pitches to hit. And it’s the same thing with pitchers in this league. He hasn’t seen many of them before. So he gets (to face) a new guy all the time. He’s got to have a book in his mind of how this guy worked me? What kind of fastball does he have? Does he have a breaking ball? And that’s progression. And that takes time in the big leagues.

Nats320: I seem to recall that Chipper Jones made an ungodly amount of errors his first season in the minor leagues.

Tim Foli: That’s right. And so did Derek Jeter. And so did Alex Rodriguez. They just do. They make throwing errors and a lot of it is because he (Desmond) has such great range. He will get to a ball that many others won’t and then throw it away. That’s a part of the growing up and part of the maturing process.

Nats320: Other then his throwing errors, is there anything else he should focus on more?

Tim Foli: Absolutely not. We talk about different situations. And like I told you before, how to handle runners in scoring position. When to just knock down the ball instead of trying to make a play on it--all of that stuff. That really is a part of growing up. It’s a big part of being out there every single day. Every day something is going to happen that is a little bit different. With the talent he’s got, he practices hard. He takes that into the game. And then he’s got to react to the situations as they present themselves. The more experience he has out there, the better he is going to get.

Nats320: What clicked for him in the Minor Leagues about a year and one/half ago to two years ago--that changed his direction?

Tim Foli: I really think he just matured. His physical body matured to the point where he understood himself better. At the same time, his mind is quick. He knows what it takes to get it done. Everybody (in the game) goes through the same process. Some guys get it quicker than others. And I am just happy he’s putting it all together and is here right now proving himself.

Nats320: It took him a while to get here, but you are confident he is here to stay?

Tim Foli: Here to stay and here to become an All-Star. He’s that talented.

With that final answer, Jim Riggleman's & Tim Foli's Thoughts On Ian Desmond concluded. But that's not all. The African Queen and I chatted with Our Number 6 as well about his development during the first half season of 2010 as the starting shortstop for Our Washington Nationals. As always, Desmond was a straight shooter and didn't back down from any question asked. That conversation coming up later on Nats320.

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