Spring training is right around the corner, so it’s as good a time as any to take a look at the 2012 Tampa Bay Rays. This is a talented team from top to bottom, and has as good a chance as any of making the playoffs. Each part in the series will focus on a key player – what they’ve done so far, and what they’re capable of doing in the future.
Despite losing Carl Crawford earlier in the season, the Rays were able to find a replacement for him in left – one whom might be even better then the former franchise icon. In his first extended opportunity, Desmond Jennings delivered on his potential and is locked in as the leadoff hitter and starting LF for the next six seasons. The 25 year old can beat you with his glove, his speed and with his bat. In 2011 Jennings hit 259/356/449 (31% above league average) in 247 at bats, hitting 10 homers, stealing 20 bases and earning 2.4 WAR.
Jennings was a 10th round pick back in 2006. The Rays were very patient with his development, often letting him spend a full season in each level of the minors so that they would not rush him. Since the Rays cannot spend a significant amount on their payroll, it is important that when they call up a player they are ready to perform, as they cannot risk wasting service time on a player who isn’t ready. Jennings was no exception, and his performance as a catalyst to the lineup is one of the reasons the Rays beat out the Red Sox for a playoff spot.
In the minors Jennings had a 294 batting average and showed fantastic plate discipline, which is important for a leadoff hitter. He struggled towards the end of the season in the majors, likely because pitchers began adjusting to him. As he gains experience in the with the Rays, Jennings will likely hit for a better average and continue to show strong on base skills. He didn’t hit for much power in the minors, so it will be interesting to see if his power carries forward in the future. If BJ Upton is traded, or leaves the Rays after 2012 via free agency, it’s likely that Desmond Jennings will be given an opportunity to become the everyday center fielder.
The continued success of Jennings will go a long way towards determining if the Tampa Bay Rays can make the playoffs. His speed will be extremely disruptive on the bases, distracting pitchers while potentially giving Upton and Evan Longoria better pitches to hit. He’s a fantastic defender in left which will help the Rays pitchers get through innings more efficiently. Jennings has proven himself as a bona fide major leaguer, and in a few years it wouldn’t be a surprise if he turned himself into one of the best all around outfielders in the game.
2012 Prediction: 275/370/430, 14 HR, 55 RBI, 100 runs, 35 SB.