The Tampa Bay Rays have built a successful club in the AL East by turning to young talent who are ready to blossom into stars. Current faces of the franchise Evan Longoria and David Price were groomed in the Tampa Bay farm system before coming up to the big leagues and carrying the team. So who will be their next breakout star? Look no further than outfielder Desmond Jennings.
With B.J. Upton leaving town for the Atlanta Braves via free agency, the center field position is turned over to Jennings. The 26-year-old is a good fielder who possesses great speed and range, making him a natural fit for the vast expanse of center. While Jennings had some experience in the big part of the outfield last season, playing 21 games in center, the majority of his experience has come in left field, but that was more due to Upton’s presence than Jennings’ inability to defend there.
Jennings has always had the potential to be an 18 to 20 home run center fielder with 40-plus stolen bases. Now, he’ll finally get the opportunity to cash in on that potential. In his first season starting the majority of games, Jennings showed flashes of being excellent, hitting .246 with 13 home runs, 47 RBI and an OPS of .733 to go along with 31 stolen bases in 132 games.
He will have to improve his approach at the plate and prove to Joe Maddon he can handle the leadoff spot by showing greater patience and seeing more pitchers per at-bat. Last season, he walked just 46 times while striking out 120 times. He will have to wait for his pitches more this season while increasing his walk-rate and on-base percentage if he’s to flourish at the top of the batting order.
Jennings has all of the tools to be a breakout star and he’ll finally get the opportunity to take his shot in 2013. Will he connect or will this season be a swing and a miss?