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Desmond Jennings: What the Rays need

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DJ is the man to provide consistency in LF, as long as his knees allow it.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Desmond Jennings enters the 2016 after injuries derailed his 2015 season for the Rays. Jennings was limited to 28 games with the Rays last season due to a left knee injury that would need surgery by the end of April. Jennings would return on August 14th, but his return was short lived as he would land on the disabled list after ten games that would end his season due to a bruised left knee and a tooth infection that would require surgery.

Career

Season PA HR SB BB% K% AVE OBP SLG wRC+ fWAR
2011 287 10 20 10.8% 20.6% 0.259 0.356 0.449 128 2.4
2012 563 13 31 8.2% 21.3% 0.246 0.314 0.388 98 3.3
2013 602 14 20 10.6% 19.1% 0.252 0.334 0.414 111 3.0
2014 542 10 15 8.7% 19.9% 0.244 0.319 0.378 103 3.2
2015 108 1 5 7.4% 15.7% 0.268 0.324 0.340 87 0.1

Jennings would stake his claim in the outfield for the Rays in 2011 as he came out hitting like the player many expected as the internal replacement of Carl Crawford. Jennings would never be able to live up to the expectations that were placed on him through his elite prospect status and successful first taste of extended playing time in the majors.

Desmond Jennings would be a valuable asset through his first three full seasons at the major league level by providing good defense with a league average bat. Injuries have kept Jennings from living up to his full potential as he hasn't been able to manage over 602 plate appearances or 139 games to this point in his career.


Photo credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In 2015* Jennings season was off to a rough start before he was injured as he had compiled 72 plate appearances of .220/.306/.238 59 wRC+ production. After returning Jennings looked to put the injuries behind him as he had put up a .353/.361/.529 144 wRC+ line over 36 plate appearances before  his season would be over.

*Small Sample Size Alert for his 2015 season and even more so when it is split into even small portions.

Projections

System PA HR SB BB% K% AVE OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
Steamer 495 11 14 9.0% 19.6% 0.244 0.317 0.379 96 1.5
ZiPS 392 8 13 8.7% 19.9% 0.246 0.317 0.384 97 1.6
Davenport 274 6 7 10.2% 23.0% 0.251 0.327 0.398 104 1.6

All three projection systems forecast a return to be a league average bat over smaller sample size due to injury concerns moving forward. Davenport's system is the most bullish on Jennings as he would be expected to post a 3.5 WAR season if he were able to accrue 600 plate appearances.

For as long as Jennings is able to stay healthy he should be a welcome addition to the Rays.

What to Expect?

Jennings' season could go through any number of routes. Outcomes could range from virtually useless due to being broken or injuries causing him not to be able to stay on the field to being back to the 3-3.5 WAR player we saw from 2012-14.

Knees never truly get better as you age, so we'll likely never see what Jennings could do over a full season. I expect we'll see some mixture of vintage Jennings as long as his knees are protected from extended playing time on the hard artificial surface at Tropicana Field. In fact, with this in mind, when the Rays do play at home Jennings should see only half the starts he normally would.

The most reasonable outcome would be a new normal for Jennings where he is able to produce in a more limited role over 300-400 plate appearances over the season. Most would view this as another step in the disappointment that Jennings has been, but that is a function of unreasonable expectations.

A healthy season from Jennings even in a slightly reduced role would be a great addition to the Rays lineup and could be a key to the Rays improving upon their disappointing 2015.