First Off: Rays Need Desmond Jennings To Ignite The Offense

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - AUGUST 02: Outfielder Desmond Jennings #8 of the Tampa Bay Rays fouls off a pitch against the Toronto Blue Jays during the game at Tropicana Field on August 2, 2011 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

Last season we all waited and waited....and waited for the Rays to call up Desmond Jennings. On July 14th in the ESPN Insider Baseball Today Podcast ($$ required) Keith Law openly questioned whether the Rays had soured on Jennings as a prospect. We all tracked the service time clock and as soon as the Super 2 period had passed may of us who were monitoring his progress in AAA with the Durham Bulls also began to wonder why he wasn't with the Rays. On July 22 he was hitting .275/.356/.456 with 12 homers and had swiped 17 stolen bases in 18 attempts and after over 1000 AAA plate appearances the Rays finally deemed him ready to be called up for good.

At the time of his promotion to the Rays they were in 3rd place in the AL East with a record of 52-46 and trailed the New York Yankees by 6.5 games for the Wild Card and were 8.5 games behind the Boston Red Sox. Many fans felt that the Rays were a long shot to make the playoffs and promoting Jennings didn't seem to be a move made with focus on a pennant run but more of a move which would soon be paired with the departure of B.J. Upton at the trade deadline.

It did not take Jennings long to show the type of impact he could have at the top of the Rays lineup. In his first plate appearances after his call up against the Royals he lined a triple into left center field. He finished his first game as the Rays leadoff hitter going 2-3 with a double, triple, 2-runs scored, walked twice, and stole a base but the Rays lost 5-4 in 10 innings.

The Rays began their pursuit of a playoff spot on August 1st and having Jennings at the top of the lineup had the type of impact to an offense that a team desires from their leadoff hitter. Despite an 0-24 streak to end September he finished the year with a wRC+ of 131 with a slash line .259/.356/.449 with 10 homers and 20 stolen bases.

As the 2012 season began we all hoped that Jennings would not fall victim to the fabled sophomore slump, stay healthy, and be the player he was at the end of the 2011 season. Unfortunately, Jennings progress has been stalled by a combination of poor play and the difficulty in coming back from a strained knee that landed him on the disabled list.

During spring training he was involved in a collision with BJ Upton which caused him to miss time and resulted in B.J. Upton beginning the season on the disabled list. Maybe due to missing action in spring training he was slow to get back into the flow and hit only .229 (11 for 48) through his first 12 games of 2012. His season began to turn around in the final game of the Blue Jays series when he went 3-5 with a HR and a stolen base. A game in which he resembled the Desmond Jennings that was reminiscent of the 2011 model. From that point through to his knee injury on May 6th Jennings hit an impressive .302/.357/.508 with 3 HR and 6 stolen bases.

Entering Thursday's game and including the two pinch hit appearances he made prior to being placed on the disable list he has hit ..194 (12-62), has an OBP of .231 (3 BB in 65 PA), and a slugging% of .274 (no homers since April 24th).

Overall Jennings has posted a slash line of .243/.302/.358 with a wRC+ of only 91. If the Rays are going to withstand the continued absence of Evan Longoria they are going to need to have Desmond Jennings return closer to his 2011 form. Unfortunately, since Jennings is a young player we don't know if the 2011 Jennings was unexpected or normal.

A few observations are noted below:

  • He has a walk rate of 7.4% and a K% of 20.1% - for reference 2011 BB% was 10.8% and K% was 20.6%.
  • After showing surprising power in 2011 he has only hit 3 HR this season and his HR/FB% is only 5.6% while it was 15.6% in 2011.
  • His 2012 BABIP is pretty similar .293 to his 2011 BABIP of .303.
  • In 2011 he had a LD/GB/FB profile of 17.6%/47.3%/35.2% with a IFFB% of 9.4%. Thus far in 2012 he profiles with less groundballs and more fly balls and infield fly balls 22.6%/36.8%/40.6% and IFFB% of 13%.
  • In 2011 he saw fastballs 61.2% and sliders 13.9% while in 2012 he is seeing slightly less fastballs 59.5% and more sliders 17.9%.
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