Jennings MLB arrival is rather convenient too, as the Rays lost their former franchise left fielder following the 2010 season. He's really the best replacement for Carl Crawford the Rays could get with their limited payroll. Like Crawford, Jennings provides the team with a leadoff-type hitter, excellent speed, decent power and above-average defense in the outfield.
The Rays have a lot to be excited about with him, and will need every bit of his offensive contributions as they battle for the pennant this season. Jennings will enter his first full MLB season this year, returning from an impressive 63-game stint with the Rays in 2011.
He put up a .259/.356/.449 line, while collecting 10 homers and 20 stolen bases through his 247 at-bats. After a great first impression, quite a lot is expected out of Jennings in 2011. Skipper Joe Maddon has already decided via TBO.com to put him in the leadoff spot for this season—a task that is very uncommon amongst rookies.
Jennings is clearly the best guy for the job, and there's plenty of reasons to believe he'll get it done in the No. 1 spot. Here's my full season stat projections for Jennings in 2012.
Career Average (MLB and minors): .289
MLB Average (80 games): .254
2012 Projection: .270
Jennings wasn't exactly a consistent .300 hitter throughout his minor league career, and I wouldn't expect that out of him in his big league career. Still, Jennings has proven he can hit pretty well for average.
His biggest challenge at the plate against Major League pitchers is strikeouts. The high strikeout rates are something the Rays would like to see him improve on, especially now that he's their leadoff hitter. His hard swing provides him with good power, but doesn't help out his average too much.
I believe that Jennings will eventually bring his average up to where it needs to be, as he's still developing as a quality big league hitter. But of course, a .270 average is a very acceptable number for a rookie season.
Batting average is the main stat that Jennings needs to improve on, and we can expect that he hits better than his .259 from last season.
Career Average (MLB and minors): 51 RBI per 500 ABs
MLB Total (80 games): 27 RBI
2012 Projection: 56 RBI in 550 AB
Averaging about 51 RBI per 500 at-bats, Jennings never has put up big run-production numbers in his pro career. Knocking in a bunch of runs is not exactly a priority for Jennings, and he clearly has the ability to drive in more runs than what's expected from a leadoff hitter.
He has plenty of pop in his bat for a speedy leadoff man, and really just has to continue what he did in 2011 to put up the RBI numbers he needs. Jennings hit 25 RBI in 63 games last season, which converts to 55 RBI with the 162-game average.
Career Average (MLB and minors): 12 HR per 500 AB
MLB Total (80 games): 10 HR
2012 Projection: 15 HR in 550 AB
Jennings raw power is not too common amongst right-handed leadoff hitters alike. He possesses natural pop in his swing that makes him somewhat of a home run threat to opposing pitchers.
He may not be a 20-homer guy in the near future, but he showed everybody last year his ability to turn around a fastball into the bleachers against big league competition. Jennings belted 10 dingers in 63 games last season, which calculates into a 162-game average of 20 home runs. Jennings' power surge was a bit of a pleasant surprise in 2011, and was a great bonus along with his great speed.
For the RBI stat, Jennings needs to continue what he did last year in order to put up the adequate home run numbers.
Career Average (MLB and minors): 57 SB per 162 games
MLB Total (80 game): 22 SB
2012 Projection: 40 SB in 162 games
Stealing bases has always been the biggest part of Jennings' game. The kid can absolutely fly; his pure speed on the base paths is one of the most exciting in the game.
Jennings' stolen base success looks like it will translate in the big leagues, making him a pretty good Carl Crawford replacement already. He successfully stole 22 times out of 30 attempts so far in his MLB career—a ratio that's impressive for a rookie. Jennings seems to have a knack for swiping bags, and of course the excellent speed is a huge help.
I'm predicting 40 stolen bases for him in 2012, a number that would look great on any rookie's stat sheet. It could be less or more, but either way Jennings is going to drive pitchers crazy on the bases this year.
Career Minor League Average: .382
Career Major League Average: .351
2012 Projection: .344
Getting on base is one of the main parts of Jennings' job description. OBP will be a crucial stat for him as he hits in the leadoff spot, and it will be a huge factor in the team's overall offensive success.
With Jennings ability to produce on the base pads, there's quite a lot of pressure on the 25-year-old to get on base consistently.
I'm predicting a decent .344 OBP for him in 2012, which is a tad over the league average and .22 points higher than the Rays' team OBP last year. If Jennings manages to post an OBP close to that, he'll be contributing heavily to the Rays' run production this season.
Career Average (MLB and minors): 118 R per 162 games
MLB Total (80 games): 49 R
2012 Projection: 99 R in 162 games
If your a Rays fan, you obviously hope that Jennings crosses the plate many times this season. A high run total does not only mean that Jennings is on his game, but it also means that the meat of the order is doing their job as well.
The Rays can probably expect from him a run total anywhere in the 90s range, which they would love to have out of their leadoff man. Obviously this is not a stat that purely reflects the player, but a high enough OBP should lead to a good run total.
Jennings' speed will also help him score throughout the season, and will continue the Rays way of generating runs.