When one thinks of the keys to the Rays offense, the first things that come to mind are likely the health of Evan Longoria, and finding someone to protect Longoria in the lineup. As great of a hitter as he has been, Longoria’s abilities may be somewhat diminished if the hitters in front of him are unable to get on base.
With that being the case, the performance of Desmond Jennings this season may be a major factor as to the Rays offense this season. Last year, while the Rays struggled to score runs, Jennings also struggled, posting a .246/.314/.388 batting line. While he was dynamic on the basepaths, being successful in 31 of 33 stolen base attempts, Jennings did not get on base much, drawing only 40 walks in 563 plate appearances. In fact, Rays leadoff hitters ranked only 21st in baseball in OBP, and were tenth in the American League, at .315.
Thus far during the Spring, Jennings has been hitting the ball well, to the tune of a .345 batting average, which ranks fourth on the team. Perhaps more importantly, Jennings has the highest on base percentage on the Rays of any player with more than five plate appearances, as he is presently getting on base at a .486 clip. Aside from his ten hits, he has drawn seven walks, and has been perfect in stolen base attempts.
As the Rays are not likely to have much power in the lineup, aside from Longoria initially in the lineup (Wil Myers may be up mid-season if he hits in Durham), Jennings getting on base and utilizing his speed may be important for the Rays to improve upon an offense that ranked eleventh in the American League in runs scored. As such, Jennings is going to need to prove that he can adapt in the majors as well as he did in the minors. If he is able to do so, then he could end up being that dynamic leadoff hitter that he was envisioned to be when he was considered one of the top prospects in baseball.
Desmond Jennings’ performance in Spring Training may be a sign that he is ready to take that next step in his development. Aside from Longoria, he may prove to be the most important piece of the Rays lineup.