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Peoria's DeShields leads off in style
Astros prospect collects three hits, makes strides in center
10/21/2013 3:26 PM ET
Delino DeShields hit .317 with a .405 on-base percentage in 2013.
Delino DeShields hit .317 with a .405 on-base percentage in 2013. (Dylan Higgins/AFL)

Delino DeShields knows his job as a leadoff hitter, but he also knows Nolan Fontana. The thing about Fontana -- his teammate in the Astros system since midway through 2012 -- is that he gives DeShields a little flexibility in handling his leadoff responsibilities.

That was the case Monday as DeShields ripped a single on the first pitch he saw and added two doubles in Peoria's 5-3 win over Salt River. The Javelinas also got a home run from Astros prospect Japhet Amador -- his second of the Arizona Fall League season.

DeShields had no qualms about jumping on Bo Schultz's first-pitch fastball when the right-hander left the 93-mph offering in the middle of the plate. With someone else batting behind him, the Astros' No. 7 prospect might have let the pitch pass in favor of a longer at-bat, which managers tend to prefer from their leadoff men.

DeShields jumped eagerly at the offering, though, in large part because of Fontana's presence on deck.

"I know the type of hitter he is," DeShields said. "He takes a lot of pitches, had over 100 walks this year. I know if I get a good pitch to hit in my first at-bat, he will take behind me until he finds what he's looking for.

"With anybody else who I might not be as comfortable with hitting behind me, I might see a couple more pitches to give them some looks. I knew I had Fontana behind me."

Houston's No. 8 prospect Fontana, who hit .259 with a .415 on-base percentage with Class A Advanced Lancaster this summer, followed with another single, but the Astros duo was stranded there.

DeShields doubled in his next two at-bats. The first was a line drive off a 3-1 offering that found the right-field gap. The second was, as DeShields described it, "a bleeder over the first baseman's head," that he stretched into a double.

"The right fielder didn't get to the ball quick enough and I just took second," he said. "As somebody who has speed, I might as well use it however I can to advance, put myself in a position to score some runs."

Speed has been the calling card for the 5-foot-9 native of Gaston, Ga., Houston selected him eighth overall in 2010. Over the past three seasons, DeShields has 182 stolen bases, including 101 swipes in 2012.

When they drafted him, Houston moved DeShields from center field to second base in hopes his athleticism would translate well in the middle of the infield. The Astros put an end to that experiment this fall, moving DeShields back to center.

"I'm still learning along the way," he said. "I'm comfortable, but there's a lot of stuff I didn't learn in high school that I probably would've learned in pro ball if I stayed out there."

Chief among the lessons has been positioning -- far more complex in professional baseball than the high school ranks. DeShields said he's been studying up on where he needs to be depending on the situation, while making sure he's in a good position to see the ball off the bat. For instance, a couple of times this fall, he's left the pitcher between himself and home plate and momentarily lost sight of the baseball on contact.

"It's different from the infield," he said. "I can't really see the signs from the catcher like from the infield. That's something I haven't been used to from the past couple of years.

"A couple of times, I couldn't see the ball off the bat and I've gotten bad jumps from bad positioning in the outfield. That's just the biggest thing for me, is finding a good position, being on my toes and ready, anticipate the ball being hit to me every time. That's stuff I'm learning along the way."

DeShields has committed two errors in center thus far in the Fall League, including one in the sixth inning Monday. But it's been mostly good for DeShields, though, according to former scout and MLB.com analyst Bernie Pleskoff.

"He reads the ball off the bat extremely well," Pleskoff wrote recently after seeing DeShields play in Arizona. "I have been quite surprised at the excellent routes he has taken in the difficult high Arizona sky. He has speed to close on balls in the air and enough athletic ability to handle balls hit off the wall while covering the gaps."

Peoria and Salt River were tied, 3-3, until Amador belted a two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh. Amador fell behind 1-2 but worked a six-pitch at-bat, mashing the final offering -- a 90-mph fastball from Colorado's Tyler Matzek -- over the wall in center field.

"He's very unique," DeShields said of his 6-foot-4, 305-pound teammate, who signed with Houston out of the Mexican League late this summer. "You don't see many guys over 300 pounds playing baseball.

"I was surprised. He moves pretty good at first base. Hitting, when he catches something, it's going to go a long way. Today, he hit a ball to center field, and it was on a line and he just crushed it. He's interesting to watch hit."

Amador hit .368 with 36 homers and a 1.111 OPS in the Mexican League this summer, and then hit .302 during a 10-game stint with Triple-A Oklahoma City after signing.

"He has a good eye at the plate," DeShields said. "He hits a lot of line drives, doesn't really lift the ball like a lot of power hitters do. He will get under something sometimes and it'll go out. I think he tries to hit line drives and line drives turn into home runs."

Jake Seiner is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Seiner. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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