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.
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.”
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  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.