Desmond driven to learn first base with Rox

Longtime shortstop transitioned to center field last year

Desmond driven to learn first base with Rox

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- A subject of conversation and consternation around Rockies camp is Ian Desmond signing a five-year, $70 million contact to play first base -- something he has never done at any level.

In some eyes, it's a waste of the athletic ability that allowed Desmond to play shortstop with the Nationals and center field with the Rangers. For others, it's a risk: An infield with two decorated fielders -- third baseman Nolan Arenado and second baseman DJ LeMahieu -- and second-year shortstop Trevor Story will be making throws to a newbie.

But Desmond arrives with a confidence developed on two fronts:

• He has worked at the position extensively this offseason, both at his home near Sarasota, Fla., and in special sessions with manager Bud Black, coach Ron Gideon, third-base coach Stu Cole and first-base coach Tony Diaz.

• He respects the position.

Here are some of Desmond's thoughts on the transition:

The work started long before Desmond signed, when his agents discussed the Rockies' interest. It helped to receive pointers from another Sarasota-area product, Rockies Minor Leaguer Correlle Prime, whom Desmond has mentored.

"I had been working hard at home and just doing what I thought was right, and what Correlle had guided me to do. When I came out here to work, I felt like what they ran me through, I was comfortable with it. And at that point I was like, 'OK, keep doing what you're doing and keep staying on course.' That kind of reassured me."

Desmond brings hope in 2017

After ranging right and left in the infield and running great distances in the outfield, he realized he has to let some ground balls go so he can cover first base.

"I understand that it's not going to be just a walk in the park, there's going to be a learning curve. I need to give myself a little bit of time to learn. I've never played a game at first base, so those instincts are all brand new.

"I've said it since I signed. I look forward to the challenge. I look forward to learning. It's something that I've done my whole career, is sort of being open to learning."

He admires other first basemen too much to buy the "wasted athletic ability" line.

"They're spiting the other first basemen in the league. I'm friends with [the Reds'] Joey Votto. He is a legit athlete. I've seen him swing a golf club. I've seen him shoot a basketball. Look at [the D-backs'] Paul Goldschmidt. He stole [32] bags last year. Is that a waste? That's legit athleticism at first base. You got Eric Hosmer, who's probably one of the best.

"Just because I can't go laterally doesn't mean I can't go up, doesn't mean I can't work down, doesn't mean I can't go across the bag. You can be an athlete in a five-by-five box and you can still be a very good athlete."

His biggest task is gaining teammates' confidence.

"I would guess, if you look through history, championship-caliber teams almost always have a legit first baseman. I can't think of a team that has a subpar first baseman that made it to the World Series. I've thought that for a long time, that a first baseman is extremely important position on the field.

"It's an anchor. You want your shortstop to have the utmost confidence. You want your third baseman to have confidence. You want your pitcher to have confidence when they're fielding those bunts and spinning around and knowing they can just throw it anywhere. You know, that eliminates the doubt. Teams that win don't have doubt."

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and like his Facebook page. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.