Despite losing Carl Crawford, many saw Desmond Jennings as "that guy" who would easily jump in to the Opening Day lineup and play 162 games. Some also expected Jennings to put up Crawford like numbers as soon as he recieved the starting job. That is obviously not going to happen. And if the Manny and Damon signings suggest anything towards Jennings, it's that he will not be with the Rays on Opening Day.
As of right now, the Rays crowded OF features the likes of B.J Upton, Matt Joyce, Desmond Jennings, and Johnny Damon. Ben Zobrist is also a guy who the Rays still consider an outfielder but will most likely see most of his time fielding ground balls at either 2B, or even 1B depending on how things line up. Sam Fuld and Brandon Guyer, the former Cubs who were brought to St. Petersburg in the Garza trade, are outfielders as well, but are really potential 4th/5th outfielders at the big league level. So what does this mean for Desmond Jennings?
Well, there's obviously a lot to like in the speedy 24-year old. The question is, even if he has a fine Spring Training, will there be room for him to play every day in the Majors? It wouldn't make sense to have him play 3 or so times a week.
In my opinion, I think the extra Durham at-bats could benefit Jennings a great deal. Despite the possibility of not having a starting job come Opening Day, Rays fans wishes of Jennings being the next Crawford could come to fruition much sooner if he spent more work in the higher levels of the minors. He's still a top prospect and among the opinions of many, he is still viewed as a potential big league star left fielder.
The one thing that must be said here, as long as Andrew Friedman and the rest of the great Rays management is running the club, trusting the Rays process is the way to go. The Rays management have always been fantastic talent evaluators, and they know whats best for their players. If they think Jennings is best suited for 100-200 more Triple-A at-bats, I wouldn't question their decision. However, I would hope that Jennings wouldn't question it either.
As seen with Chris Carter a couple years back, he dominated Double-A in the A's organization, even winning the Player of the Year Award in the Minor Leagues back in '09. However, as many were quick to pencil him on their personal Opening Day lineup at 1B, with the Ryan Howard expectations, the A's organization, a great one as well, decided Carter needed some more time at Triple-A. Carter spent more than half of the 2010 season at Sacramento where things did not go as planned for him. He hovered around .230-.250 before getting on a hot steak in early August. So my point being, I hope Jennings doesn't let the possible pressure or the disappointment's sticking at Triple-A get to him, thus the 24-year old needs to show the Rays organization that he is 100% ready to be an every day outfielder in the Majors.
Again, there's a lot to like in a 24-year old with speed, defense, and superstar instincts. The Rays are only going to what's best for Jennings. Without him in their organization, the Rays system wouldn't be second best in the league. However, as the future looks bright for Jennings and the Rays, he needs to trust their decisions as well. The Rays are not going through a rebuilding effort. They still have a team that can compete even with all of the depletions that have occured recently. Perhaps it would help Jennings to have guys like Damon and Ramirez around, serving as a mentor to the rookie. But until then, Jennings needs to prove that he is the future and that he is that guy who can impact a lineup. Something like the Rays former left fielder, Carl Crawford.