That recent jolt to the Tampa Bay Rays offense has been provided by the highly anticipated return of Desmond Jennings to the big league club. He looks to bolster a lineup that has been near the bottom of the American League in batting average all season. Jennings had a brief stint toward the end of last year, but has shined since being called up in July. All Jennings has done is bat .328 in 16 games. He has hit three home runs to go along with four doubles and 11 RBI in 64 plate appearances.
No team adheres to the “next man up” mantra better than Tampa Bay. After losing Carl Crawford to free agency in the offseason there has been a glaring hole in the everyday lineup. But Jennings, who was ranked the #22 prospect in all of baseball coming into the year, is now getting his chance to fill that void. A look at the numbers shows a striking resemblance between the two players. They even have similar builds. Crawford is a little bit heavier, but both of them come in at 6’ 2”. In Crawford’s last meaningful season in Durham he finished with a .297 average in 85 games, hit seven home runs and had 52 RBI. Jennings meanwhile, before getting called up this year, batted .275 in 89 games, was second on the team with 12 home runs and had 39 RBI.
Many have noticed a little more pop in Jennings’ stroke while Crawford may exhibit better skill on the basepaths. Not to say Jennings isn’t getting it done in that department also. He stole four bases in just his first six games with the Rays this year. It is safe to say Jennings will have a learning curve as big league pitching adjusts to him and some of that surfaced with a three game hitless streak at the end of July. He bounced back in a major way with six hits in his next three games. Crawford dealt with a much slower start after being called up in 2002. He batted just .259 with two home runs and only nine stolen bases. The next year, his first full big league season, he batted .281 with five home runs and 55 stolen bases.
Similar numbers are expected out of Jennings and there is no reason to think he can’t get them. He has been ranked as one of the top-100 prospects the last 4 years and has been a force at every minor league stop on his way to the majors. His numbers in single-A and double-A were staggering and he was solid if not a star in triple-A Durham this year. At 24 years old the Rays can once again plug in a young talent and expect major contributions as they finish this season and look forward to next year.