Delino DeShields wears number 90 on the back of his jersey for the year he made his Major League debut with the Montreal Expos. He wound up playing 13 Major League seasons with five different clubs and retiring in 2002. He amassed 463 stolen bases, 31st on Major League Baseball’s all-time list since 1898. That’s when the current stolen base rule was implemented. 17 years later, he will step onto a Major League field again. He was hired as the Cincinnati Reds first base coach on November 28th to join new manager David Bell’s staff.
“I didn’t really get interviewed…I got a phone call from Dave (manager Davie Bell), he asked if I was interested and that was that,” said DeShields in a phone conversation. He was interviewed earlier in the offseason for the field coordinator position but did not get offered that position. “I was wondering what was going to be next for me, but then Dave called and asked if I wanted the first base spot and I said no doubt.”
Before getting back to the big leagues, he again was like a player trying to work his way up. Not as a player, though, this time as a minor league coach. He’s spent the last 10 years in the Reds minor league system first as a hitting coach for Rookie-level Billings in 2009 and then manager in 2010. He went on to manage at Low-A Dayton (2011-12), Double-A Pensacola (2013-14) and Triple-A Louisville (2015-17) before serving as the organization’s roving bunting and base running instructor in 2018.
Also spending time in the Reds minor league system from 2009-2012 was David Bell. But Deshields doesn’t think that is the reason he got the phone call. He does believe that all of that work has him prepared for his first season as a Major League coach, though. “I don’t get this job without all of the seasons in the minor leagues. It’s gratifying to know that all of the work and all the bus rides [paid off]”.
DeShields’ will have a couple of responsibilities, but his bread and butter will be base running. He will be working with a team that finished 25th in baseball in baserunning runs according to Baseball Prospectus. They also finished 27th in advancing on base hits. That is where he believes they need to improve the most and it starts in Spring Training.
“The guys have to know that it is important to us, from the top down. We are not satisfied being that type of base running club. It starts with scoring on extra base hits from first base, running hard down the line, putting pressure on the defense. That is what we are trying to do. The work that we are going to put in [to be a better base running team] doesn’t happen at 7:05, it starts in Spring Training.”
Base running is hard to quantify in my mind, but FanGraphs has four current Reds that finished above average in base running last season (Jose Peraza 3.8, Phillip Ervin 2.4, Scott Schebler 0.3 and Scooter Gennett 0.1). That is based on stolen bases, taking extra bases, outs on the bases and avoiding double plays. The Reds non-tendered Billy Hamilton who finished at 8.4. A bad base running team by the metrics got worse by losing Hamilton. As the roster sits right now, adding Phillip Ervin to the every day mix and having Nick Senzel playing regularly should help fill the void left by Hamilton and help the base running improve overall through the length of the lineup.
DeShields expressed that it is all about the players buying in to working hard on the bases. Everyone will have the scouting report. But, it will be up to the players to take base running seriously, “especially at GABP where you have take advantage of every scoring opportunity.” He will also be going back to his playing days and watching tape on pitchers to help the players get a better jump, or find a tendency in a pitcher’s delivery that could give the Reds an advantage.
Along with his base running responsibilities, he will be working with infield defense. In my time with the Louisville Bats during DeShields’ tenure, he really worked with base running and infield defense, so it is a smooth transition. Taking the step to the big leagues, there will be more information available to him to help position the defense. This includes knowing his pitchers, and working with the analytics provided to him. DeShields added, “we have always had analytics in baseball, they were just called tendencies when I played.”
He will be working with a coaching staff that was put together this offseason. They all met at RedsFest a little more than two weeks ago. They used this time to get to know each other, but the communication didn’t end there. “We have a daily group chat with the coaching staff that goes on 24/7.” Hearing this didn’t surprise me at all. It went well with what I had heard about Bell’s time in Louisville as the manager. Front Office staff loved him because of the way he communicated. It looks like that has continued as he becomes a Major League manager for the first time.