Waiting For Desmond Jennings

By David Hill

Almost from the time that the Desmond Jennings stepped on the ballfield after being drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in the tenth round, he was a hot prospect. Ranked as the 58th best prospect in baseball prior to the 2008 season, and the 80th best prospect the following year, Jennings stock soared during the 2009 season. Split between the Montgomery Biscuits and the Durham Bulls, Jennings hit at a .318/.401/.487 rate, with 31 doubles, 10 triples, 11 home runs and 52 stolen bases.

That performance was enough to rank Jennings as the sixth best prospect in baseball prior to the 2010 season, thought to be the next Carl Crawford. While his numbers slumped for Durham that year, he still put up a respectable .278/.362/.393 batting line, with 25 doubles, 6 triples, and 37 stolen bases. These numbers were good enough for him to get a September call up to the Rays, where he batted .190/.292/.333 with 5 runs scored, a double, a triple, and 2 stolen bases.

Jennings returned to Durham to start 2011, and once again displayed the talent that made him a top prospect. In 67 games, he put together a .275/.374/.456 batting line, with 68 runs, 19 doubles, 3 triples, 12 home runs and 17 stolen bases. With Crawford now gone to Boston, it appeared as though Jennings was ready to become the same type of player.

On July 23rd, Desmond Jennings was called up to Tampa to stay. In his 63 games, Jennings displayed a lot of promise, batting .259/.356/.449 with 9 doubles, 4 triples, 10 home runs and 20 stolen bases. His batting average on balls in play was .303, right around league average. With his solid batting eye and power/speed combination, Jennings seemed poised to take the next step.

Yet, this season, Jennings has struggled. Hampered for part of the year with a sprained knee, he has taken a step backwards, batting at a .237/.303/.369 rate. His patience has decreased, as he has walked only 27 times in 362 plate appearances, compared to 31 walks in 287 plate appearances last season. Yet, there are positives, as Jennings has been more proficient at stealing bases, going 19 for 20 on stolen base attempts, after going 20 for 26 last season. His decreased batting average may also have to do with a bit of bad luck, as he is hitting only .280 on balls in play.

Is Jennings just having an off year, a victim of a sophomore slump? Could it be that he is struggling under the weight of lofty expectations, pressing to become the type of player that seemingly everyone expects him to be? Or is it that Jennings turns out to be one of those players whose potential eventually outweighs their performances, yet another player who could not quite harness their talents?

Right now, everyone is waiting on Desmond Jennings to turn into the next truly dynamic leadoff hitter. The Rays are hoping that he does indeed turn into another Carl Crawford, and not the Crawford that the Red Sox have acquired.