Colorado Rockies: Ian Desmond Has Solid Debut on Saturday

Mar 20, 2016; Salt River Pima-Maricopa, AZ, USA; General view of the game between the Colorado Rockies and the San Francisco Giants at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 20, 2016; Salt River Pima-Maricopa, AZ, USA; General view of the game between the Colorado Rockies and the San Francisco Giants at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports /
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There are few players in the Cactus League this spring who will face more criticism or be under more of a microscope that Colorado Rockies first baseman Ian Desmond.

Trying to fill a position that has been a revolving door for the Rockies since Todd Helton’s retirement, Desmond signed a big contract in the offseason. There’s enough pressure in that sentence right there, but add to it the fact that Desmond is still learning how to play first base, a position he never played officially in organized baseball until Saturday, and there’s plenty of reasons why all eyes will be on first base this season in Denver.

“I’m just trying to catch up,” Desmond said recently. “These guys have been playing their respective positions probably their whole lives and I’ve got, what, four days of spring training in right now. I’m trying to catch up as fast as I can. I prefer to do my work on my own. I like to focus on what I’m doing and get it done.”

Desmond has been focusing on learning the position for weeks now. He made his debut at first in Saturday’s spring training opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He also made a good first impression, singling in his first at-bat in a purple jersey. Desmond followed that with an RBI single to right in the third inning, plating Carlos Gonzalez. Another single in the fifth signaled the end of his day.

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In his first three at-bats as Colorado’s first baseman, Desmond was 3-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored. He also stole a base. Welcome to Denver (or at least Scottsdale for now), Mr. Desmond.

The offense isn’t an issue or a concern for the Rockies or the fans. Desmond, over eight MLB seasons, has put together 162-game averages of 20 homers and 77 RBI while sporting a .267 average. It’s the defense where Desmond will be judged, but he’s not letting the pressure or numbers of eyeballs watching him change his approach.

“Slow and steady. Just trying to mind my own business and go out and do my job,” Desmond said.

That’s how Desmond described his learning process at Rockies camp. He admits the work and learning curve is there but there’s a swagger that comes from a player who has succeeded in MLB as a shortstop before becoming an outfielder … before becoming a first baseman.

“Realizing that the work that it takes, accepting that there’s probably going to be a little bit of a learning curve and going to have to accept some failure and probably some embarrassing moments,” Desmond said. “But that’s going to be part of it and hopefully by the end I’ll be an asset for those guys.

“Nothing’s really a surprise because I came in expecting it to be difficult and it has been. I have a lot of respect for the people who make it look easy.”

New Colorado manager Bud Black knows it will be anything but easy for Desmond during the transition but he knows Desmond has the athleticism to not only learn the position, but succeed at it.

“We’re not looking at it as an experiment,” Black said in this article where he talked about Desmond as a first baseman. “I’m not worried about the physical aspect of him playing first. Catching a grounder or underhanding the ball to the pitcher covering first or him handling bunt plays or him handling cutoff and relays. He’s going to be fine. The thing that I worry about is just his comfort level initially, even through spring training and into the early part of the season when games count.”

It’s a small sample size, but what we saw on Saturday could well be a sign of things to come for Desmond and the Rockies this season. His diving stop to end the fourth was a solid defensive play by a first baseman of any experience level.

Next: Grading and Analyzing Colorado's 2016 Corner Infielders

“Everything has required some work,” Desmond said. “I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful that it’s going to go really well. I understand that and trust in the process.”

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