The only glaring difference between Desmond Jennings and Carl Crawford is that Desmond was a junior college wide receiver and Crawford was recruited as a college quarterback. Well, there are a few more differences, but so far Jennings’ career path has been very similar to Crawford’s. Only time will tell who turns out to be the better player, but Jennings has shown signs that he could surpass Crawford’s numbers, albeit starting his career a few years later.
Desmond was drafted at age 20 in the 10th round of the 2006 MLB draft after playing football and baseball at Itawamba Community College for a year. Carl had been drafted out of high school at age 17 in the 2nd round of the 1999 draft. Before his age 21 season, Jennings was Baseball America’s #59 prospect, while Crawford was their #72 prospect before his age 19 season. Jennings is 6’2”, 200 lb. and Crawford is 6’2”, 215 lb. Both played Rookie ball, A, AA, and AAA through the Rays’ organization, while putting up very similar numbers.
Jennings played almost 100 games more than Crawford in the minors, but he outshined his former teammate in almost every rate stat. Jennings showed more power than Crawford in the minors, hitting a home run every 54 at bats compared to 109 at bats for Crawford. Jennings ISO, which measures a player’s power, was also much higher than Crawford’s (.149 to .105).
Not only did Jennings steal more often than Crawford, he had a better success rate on the bases. His 85% success rate is very impressive compared to the MLB record (minimum 300 attempts) of 88.1% by Carlos Beltran. While Jennings and Crawford had identical batting averages in the minors (.294), Jennings’ OPS was 90 points higher than Crawford’s (.825 vs. .735). Another place where Jennings outperformed Crawford in the minors was with plate discipline. Jennings stuck out on 14% of plate appearances compared to the ex-Ray’s 17%. Crawford’s biggest weakness in his career has been his inability to get on base. He walked a paltry 5% of his plate appearances in the minors, while Jennings walked 11% of the time.
Jennings has now played 105 games in the majors, and while he is not hitting for as high of an average as his minor league days, he has outdone Crawford’s numbers through his first 105 games. Jennings’ OBP and SLG are both down compared to his minor league days, but he is handling major league pitching much better than Crawford, who only had a .633 OPS through his first 105 games. His low .255 career MLB average could be attributed to a BABIP of .297 in the majors. This seems low for someone with such speed as Jennings, especially since his minor league BABIP was .334.
It is important to point out that Jennings is 25 years old, while Crawford was only 20 years old when he had played his 105th game. Crawford was such a naturally gifted athlete that he made it through the minors at such a young age off of his raw talents. He had a huge season at age 25, hitting .315 with 15 homeruns, 15 triples, 50 stolen bases, and an .830 OPS. Although at Jennings’ age, Crawford had seen much more success, he also seems to be aging quickly. Speed players notoriously have a quick attrition rate, and while Crawford still has fast legs, his inability to get on base in recent years and his increasing strikeout rate hints that his skill set is diminishing.
Jennings has two particular skills – skills that Crawford never mastered – that could propel the career of the current left fielder ahead of the former left fielder’s. Jennings’ ability to get on base throughout the minors was above average, reaching base with a .382 clip. In the majors he has not been as successful, reaching base on 33.4% of plate appearance – this is most likely due to his increased strikeout rate. As he gets more at bats against major league pitching, I expect his OBP to come closer his minor league numbers. Crawford’s OBP in the minors was .336, and his career MLB OBP is .333. If Jennings can repeat his OBP, he will become a more valuable leadoff man than Crawford.
Jennings’ power potential can also propel his career ahead of Crawford. For years, Crawford enthusiasts were saying that he would hit 20 plus homeruns in his prime. Crawford has never hit 20 homeruns, but Jennings realistically has that potential. Crawford’s ISO peaked at .177 when he was 24 (according to Fangraphs, an ISO of .180 is above average), with a surge to .188 in 2010. Last season, when Jennings was 24, his ISO was .190. Jennings’ ISO is currently .149, and he is on pace for 19 homeruns this season – Crawford’s career high.
Although Desmond Jennings had a later start to his career than Carl Crawford, he has the potential to put up bigger numbers during his prime, and be a more valuable leadoff man for the Rays. Despite being older, Jennings had better minor league numbers than Crawford, especially with his stolen base success rate, his ability to get on base, and his power numbers. Crawford was the more talented athlete coming into the majors, but Jennings has more patience at the plate and a better concept of the strike zone. In his prime, which is 2-3 years away, Jennings could hit 25 homeruns and steal 45 bases. If he can lower his strikeout rate closer to his minor league numbers, he could hit near .300 with an OPS around .800. Crawford’s career seems to be declining in Boston while Jennings is only getting started in Tampa. But, hey, it’s not all bad for Crawford; at least he was recruited by Nebraska to play football and not Itawamba Community College.