Jun 11, 2014; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Desmond Jennings (8) hits a 2-RBI single during the fourth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Will Desmond Jennings Ever Take The Next Step?

After being drafted in the 10th round of the 2006 MLB Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays, Desmond Jennings continually excited Rays fans. He worked his way up through the system, hitting well the entire way and also gaining a reputation as a strong defender and a potent base stealer. Everything seemed to be coming together for Jennings in 2011, when he hit .259/.356/.449 with 10 homers and 20 steals in 63 games in his first extended big league action. Rays fans were excited about Jennings’ potential, but since then he hasn’t been the player everyone thought he could become. Will Jennings ever take that next step?

2012 was Jennings first full big league season, and there were some positives and negatives. On the plus side, he stole 31 bases in 33 attempts and played tremendous defense in left field. On a more sour note, his bat took a step back to a .246/.314/.388 (.702 OPS) line and he struck out 120 times in 132 games. Jennings entered 2013 hoping to show who he truly was, and once again there were some good takeaways and some bad ones. His bat would improve to a .252/.334/.414 (.748 OPS) line, and while that wasn’t up to the potential that he had shown in 2011, it was a start. However, his base stealing would take a hit, as he went just 20-28 in stolen base attempts, and he also was not great defensively upon moving to center field. Thus, Jennings came into 2014 as a 27-year old who had still yet to show who he was. This year, he has only continued to confuse us on what kind of player he is. His .242/.327/.375 (.702 OPS) line is still disappointing, and he has gone only an o.k. 12-15 in stolen base attempts, though he is playing better defense than last year.

The biggest question with Jennings remains his bat. In the minors, he showed good contact abilities, a great plate approach, and nice power. But in the big leagues, he has been underwhelming in all three categories. His numbers haven’t been terrible, but everyone thought he could be more than he’s been. The biggest issue in the big leagues has been his plate approach. After walking almost as much as he struck out in the minors, he is striking out in 20.2% of his big league plate appearances while walking only 9.8% of the time. The poor plate approach is hurting his contact and power, and it needs to improve. The problem is that at 27-years old he is right in the middle of his prime years. If he isn’t going to be able to adjust now, will he be able to adjust once he is out of his prime? That remains to be seen, but something is going to have to change quickly for Jennings if he wants to reach the offensive potential he once showed.

Defensively and on the basepaths, he should end up being fine. The defensive problems he showed in centerfield were likely more because of an adjustment period from being a left fielder than anything else. On the basepaths, the Rays have changed up their philosophy in recent years and have not been as aggressive. Jennings has been more efficient this year than he was in 2013, and given his outstanding speed he will be fine moving forward.

All-in-all, Jennings is a decent centerfielder, but he has yet to reach the All-Star potential that he once had. It all comes down to his bat, and specifically his plate approach, and his ability to take that next step depends on that. If he cannot make the adjustment, he may soon find himself out of favor in the Rays outfield. David DeJesus, Matt Joyce, Wil Myers, Kevin Kiermaier, Brandon Guyer, and Mikie Mahtook are all going to be a part of the Rays outfield group in the near future, and if Jennings can’t improve then he could eventually find himself lost in the fold.

Tags: Desmond Jennings Tampa Bay Rays

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