Carl Crawford was the perfect player for the Rays. He had phenomenal speed, leading the American League in stolen bases four times and swiping six bags in one memorable game against the Boston Red Sox. He also had a bit of pop for a leadoff hitter, just missing twenty home runs twice, when he had 19 in 2010 and 18 in 2006. Yet, Crawford inevitably became far too expensive for the Rays to afford, and he left as a free agent after his excellent 2010 season. Fortunately for the Rays however, they had a player who seemed to be a carbon copy of Crawford waiting in the minors by name of Desmond Jennings.
Unfortunately, Jennings had yet to turn into Crawford 2.0. He had been a solid leadoff hitter for the Rays, but was unable to turn into the player he had expected to be. Part of the issue was that Jennings was unable to get on base at the rate needed for him to utilize his speed, but he also just was not hitting for power at the rate that had been expected. As unfair as it may be, Jennings was beginning to turn into a bit of a disappointment.
The nadir occurred earlier this season when, after Jennings struggles continued, Joe Maddon dropped him down to the seventh spot in the lineup. While such a move may have shaken the confidence of some players, it appeared to be what Jennings needed to wake up. Since May 27th, when Jennings was dropped in the order, he has been on a tear, producing a .304/.381/.509 batting line, with six home runs and eight steals. More importantly, his plate discipline has improved, as Jennings has drawn 20 walks in his last 195 plate appearances.
Back in the leadoff spot, Jennings appears to have truly turned the corner. He has begun causing havoc upon the bases once again, and the expected pop in his bat has started to materialize. Already with eleven home runs on the season, he is poised to absolutely shatter his personal best. While his fifteen steals may not seem like a huge amount, Jennings remains on pace to potentially have a season with twenty homers, thirty plus steals, and the potential to have an on base percentage in the .340 to .350 range. In short, he appears to be on the verge of producing a season similar to those of Carl Crawford.
Desmond Jennings appears as though he has finally scratched the surface of his potential. If he can continue his improvement after the All-Star Break, then he may be on the verge of being that dynamic catalyst that has been a big part of the Rays attack over the past few years.