Astros' first-round pick reaches milestone in breakout season
Delino DeSheilds Jr. has 83 steals at Lexington and 18 more with Lancaster. (Mike Andruski/Mavericks)
By Danny Wild / MLB.com | September 3, 2012 7:04 PM ET
Delino DeShields Jr. knew his time was running out. Monday's game was the last of the regular season for Lancaster, and when he reached on a fielder's choice in the fifth inning against High Desert, elusive stolen base No. 100 was just 90 feet away.
Then he got thrown out.
"I just wanted to get it over with," DeShields said. "And it wasn't working out. I was like, 'God, I'm not gonna get it.' I told myself, 'Don't worry about, if it it happens, it was meant to happen. And if not, 99 steals, I'll still be pleased with that.'"
But with that many steals to his name this season, DeShields wasn't done running. In a season dominated by the buzz surrounding Billy Hamilton's record-setting 155-steal season, DeShields has quietly piled up his share of thefts. A leadoff walk from Tyler Blandford in the seventh opened the door, and the Astros prospect raced right through it.
DeShields stole second for his 100th and then swiped third for his 101st of the season in the seventh of the Class A Advanced JetHawks' 11-5 win over the Mavericks, giving him the most steals in a season for an Astros Minor Leaguer. It also made him just the second player in professional baseball this season to steal at least 100 bases.
"I stole on a pitchout, made it in there,and it was a good feeling," DeShields said. "I was relieved, very relieved. Next pitch, I stole third. I was like, 'OK, there ya go.'"
"I just got [No. 100] out of the way, and I felt more relaxed, I wasn't antsy. I was like, 'That was easy, why couldn't I have done that before?' I was more at ease with myself. And it paid off."
High Desert didn't exactly roll out the red carpet to second base this past weekend. The son of Major League veteran Delino DeShields had been caught twice over the previous two games in the series before being thrown out in the fifth in search of No. 100, which came in his 135th game.
Originally, DeShields said he never dreamed of stealing 100 bases. Coming out of Spring Training, he felt 75 was a good goal.
"I set my goal for 75 in the beginning of the season and then I passed that, and I thought, I might as well shoot for 100 now," he said. "And that's when I set a new goal, after I reached my previous one."
That was definitely easier said than done. DeShields' crime spree wasn't a secret, and opposing pitchers and catchers pulled out every trick in the book to slow down the Astros' No. 11 prospect.
"Holding the ball, pickoff throws five or six times, pitching out, everything they could do -- they'd quick-pitch me, get me off balance, but I just didn't let it faze me," he said. "Being patient -- as soon as the leg went up, I was going. They could do whatever they wanted to, but they weren't going to stop me from stealing."
Hamilton, who broke Vince Coleman's all-time record of 145 last month with Double-A Pensacola, has soaked in the attention with his relentless speed. But 2012 has actually been another big season for stolen bases in the Minors -- at least 10 players have swiped 50 or more bases this year, while Mike Trout's 42 steals currently lead the Majors with a month to go. Last season, 13 Minor Leaguers finished the year with 50 or more steals.
DeShields, Houston's top second-base prospect and No. 11 overall in the system, spent most of his second full season in the Minors with Class A Lexington, where he stole 83 bases in 111 games before moving up to the California League. He stole 15 bases in 22 games last month before adding three in three September games to reach triple digits.
All year long, DeShields saw Hamilton a step ahead.
"I was at like 70-something and he already had 100," DeShields said. "I was on pace to get like 95 and people were talking to me about how there's a good chance there might be two or three players that get 100. I was like, 'Oh man, that'd be awesome.' He played on my dad's team last year, he had 100 last year. I followed him a little bit, but I was more concerned about what I was doing. He's a very talented guy obviously, but I was trying to get mine and not worry about talking about Billy and being put in his shadow."
The breakout year comes after he stole 30 bags in 119 games last summer with Lexington -- a solid season by most standards, but nothing close to what he's accomplished in his third season since being drafted No. 8 overall by Houston in 2010.
What helped DeShields triple his stolen base count? At the plate, the Georgia native has been a true leadoff man. In 537 at-bats, the second baseman is batting .287 with 12 homers, 61 RBIs and a .389 on-base percentage between two levels.
"Just getting on base more, walking more and being a disciplined hitter, a patient hitter," he said. "The main thing was getting on base more, getting more opportunities to steal with me being a leadoff man. I lead off every game, so when I get on, no one else's in front of me. That's the opportunity for me to take two bags."
DeShields has been caught stealing 19 times this year, but he also has 24 doubles and eight triples. But anyone who aims for such a big goal has to have the confidence to fail sometimes.
"My confidence was just going really well," he said. "There was a point where I hadn't been thrown out in the beginning, I had 30 stolen bases safely, so that was a big confidence boost for me. Then I got thrown out, I was like, 'Uh oh.' But I kept going with it."
DeShields said his dad, who manages Class A Dayton in the Reds' system, has offered advice since his youth. The elder DeShields had 463 steals in the Majors, which ranks him 44th on the all-time list.
"My dad helped me, but he taught me at a young age that I'd have to make adjustments on my own," he said. "And I was doing what felt comfortable to me. He told me how he'd steal bases, so I'd implement that into my base stealing this year, and it worked out."
Overall, DeShields said he's satisfied with his production this year beyond the base stealing. A first-round pick with the pressure to perform, he felt he needed to prove himself again this season.
"It's been a very good year for me, I finally feel like I got back on my feet again after struggling last year, and I feel like I proved a lot of people wrong," he said. "I had people doubting me and I didn't let it faze me. I worked really hard this offseason, I told myself it would never happen again."
Lancaster third baseman Jonathan Meyer did his best to upstage DeShields with a pair of homers and five RBIs to lead the JetHawks' 13-hit attack. DeShields finished 0-for-2 with a walk, while starter Blair Walters picked up the win despite allowing five runs in 5 2/3 innings.
2012 Stolen Base leaders
Delino DeShields Jr
Danny Wild is an editor for MLB.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.