Prospect of the Day: Desmond Jennings, OF, Tampa Bay Rays
Tampa Bay Rays fans and many fantasy owners have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of outfield prospect Desmond Jennings. Now that he's finally in the majors, what can we expect?
The Rays drafted Desmond Jennings in the 10th round in 2006, from Itawamba Community College in Mississippi. He stole 32 bases in his pro debut, hitting .277/.360/.390 for Princeton in the Appalachian League, then followed that up with a sharp .315/.401/.465 mark with 45 steals in 99 games for Columbus in the Sally League in '07. He was limited to just 24 games for Vero Beach in 2008 by back and shoulder injuries, but came back healthy in 2009 and hit .316/.395/.486 for Double-A Montgomery (100 games) and .325/.419/.491 for Triple-A Durham (32 games), combining to draw 67 walks and steal 52 bases. He hit .278/.362/.393 with 37 steals for Durham last year, but went just 4-for-21 (.190) in 17 games for the Rays.
This year he was hitting .275/.374/.456 with 12 homers, 45 walks, and 17 steals in 18 attempts for Durham, with 338 at-bats. In his minor league career, Jennings is a .294/.382/.443 hitter with 188 steals and 240 walks in 2228 plate appearances, including a .283/.375/.431 mark with 69 steals, 111 walks, and 18 homers in 992 Triple-A plate appearances.
Jennings is a 24-year-old right-handed hitter and thrower, listed at 6-2, 200 pounds. His power output can be sporadic, and his production has been harmed at times by nagging injuries; he's had issues with his shoulder, back, and knees. But when healthy, as he's been this year, he has good pop.
His best attribute is speed; he's at least a 70 runner on the 20-80 scale, but unlike many speedsters, he doesn't just rely on his raw ability: he is a very skilled baserunner and is an excellent percentage stealer. In Triple-A he's stolen 69 bases in 76 attempts. He has a good feel for the strike zone and draws walks, enhancing his value at the top of a lineup. His dynamism is also a huge asset in the outfield. His arm isn't special, but he has excellent range in center field and makes few mistakes.
The Rays have been cautious with Jennings and advanced him slowly through the system. He has 330 games to his credit in Double-A and Triple-A, and has learned all he can learn in the minors. The time is now for Desmond Jennings, and his development makes a B.J. Upton trade all the more likely. His combination of speed, on-base ability, moderate power, and strong defense gives the rookie a very broad base of tools and skills.