The Braves have signed outfielder Delino DeShields to a minor league deal, according to the club’s transactions tracker at MLB.com. He was recently released by the Marlins, after signing a minor league deal with them and making a brief appearance in their spring camp.
DeShields, 29, has played in each of the past seven MLB seasons, garnering praise for his speed and outfield defense, but not offering a ton at the plate. He stole 106 bases across his first five seasons while playing for the Rangers, but only hit .246/.326/.342, wRC+ of 76. Still, he was able to provide 4.8 fWAR in that time due to his contributions on the grass.
The past two seasons, he’s gone into journeyman mode, spending time in the organizations of the Guardians, Red Sox, back to the Rangers, then the Reds and Marlins. Last year, he showed a bit more promise at the plate, putting up a Triple-A line of .252/.385/.366, 101 wRC+ and an MLB line of .255/.375/.426, 115 wRC+. That big league output is easily the best of his career, though it came in a small sample of just 58 plate appearances.
For the Braves, DeShields should bolster the club’s outfield depth, which is currently centered by Adam Duvall, who only had 31 games of center field experience coming into this season. They also have defensively-challenged corner outfielders in Eddie Rosario and Marcell Ozuna taking the field on a regular basis. That trio certainly adds a lot of pop to the lineup, but could also be giving runs back on the other side of the ball. Signing a glove-first player like DeShields will give them the ability to pivot to a different approach later.
Of course, all of this is temporary, as the club is just trying to tread water in the outfield until the return of superstar Ronald Acuna Jr. He is still in the process of working his way back from last year’s torn ACL injury. According to Justin Toscano of The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, the team is “loosely targeting” April 25 for Acuna to start a rehab assignment in the minors. Acuna was primarily a center fielder in 2019 but gradually started spending more time in right field over the past two seasons. Having a healthy Acuna in center and bumping Duvall into a corner would probably be a best case scenario. However, due to the severity of the injury and his importance to the team, the Braves will surely give Acuna some time as designated hitter and occasional off days, even after he’s eligible to rejoin the big league team. With center field generally being a more demanding position to play than the corners, it’s possible they won’t consider Acuna up the middle at all this year. With that future uncertainty, and the natural grind of a baseball season that leads to both major and minor injuries, DeShields could prove to be a useful piece for the club down the road.