Is Desmond Jennings the Next Carl Crawford?

Jimmy HascupCorrespondent ISeptember 2, 2009

ST. LOUIS, MO - JULY 12: U.S. Futures All-Star Desmond Jennings of the Tampa Bay Rays stands at the plate during the 2009 XM All-Star Futures Game at Busch Stadium on July 12, 2009 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Don’t be surprised if the Tampa Bay Rays look to trade Carl Crawford this offseason.

While Crawford does have a club option for next season, it’s possible the Rays look to move him come wintertime, even after such a remarkable season. If they don’t have the money or don’t want to pay the price, then now is the best time for the Rays to earn the highest return amongst trade partners.

Even if the Rays don’t trade Crawford at all, which is definitely possible, Rays outfielder Desmond Jennings could force his way onto the team. The question is, does Jennings make the Rays more apt to trade Crawford prior to his contract expiration?

I’m going to show you why it may not be a terrible idea for the Rays to part ways with the All-Star...

Jennings was drafted by the Rays in the 10th round of the 2006 MLB Draft and was the fifth overall prospect for the Rays this season, according to Baseball America. He has played at every level of the Rays' system since being selected and has moved up the ranks rather quickly. Jennings was a raw athlete when he was drafted, but he’s turned into quite the prospect.

This season Jennings has played at both Double-A and Triple-A, compiling a .311 AVG, 10 HR, 56 RBI, 49 SB, and a .393 OBP. In his past 10 games at Triple-A, Jennings has a .313 AVG, three doubles, and six steals. In his minor league career, Jennings has a .303 AVG, 25 HR, 119 RBI, 131 SB, and a .387 OBP in 1,157 AB.

Compare those numbers to Crawford’s minor league stats: .295 AVG, 17 HR, 185 RBI, 134 SB, and a .336 OBP in 1,714 AB. Those numbers look eerily similar to me. Crawford is a top-tier outfielder now, and if Jennings’ minor league numbers have any say, he has a chance to become one too.

While he doesn’t have immense power, Jennings does hit a lot of doubles—he has 30 this year.

Even though it’s obvious that his calling card is his speed, Jennings still offers so much untapped potential.

For one, just look at that OBP. For somebody with the speed Jennings has, the OBP makes him a lock to be a top-of-the-order threat. Secondly, his physique, at 6'2" and 180 pounds, means some of those 30 doubles this season could easily turn into home runs as his body fully matures.

My favorite aspect of Jennings' statistics has to be his eye at the plate and his ability to make contact.

This season, he has 62 walks to go along with just 65 strikeouts in 372 AB. That’s something to write home about. It’s no fluke either—for his career he has 143 walks and 173 strikeouts.

Strong discipline and plate coverage are qualities I admire in young players. It’s one thing to have great power or speed; it’s another to have a solid foundation in plate discipline.

While my analysis is one thing, the experts in the field have nothing but rave reviews when it comes to Jennings.

Keith Law had Jennings as his 25th-best prospect before this season, and he had yet to play above Class-A ball. The only concern Law notices is his injury history, as he lasted just 102 plate appearances in 2008 due to back and shoulder issues. Back problems often recur, so it's worth monitoring.

Even with that stunting his development, Jennings has shown that his athleticism and baseball instincts allay any concerns.

Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus slotted Jennings as a four-star prospect prior to this season. Goldstein sees Jennings' downside as a "valuable outfielder" with his upside being "a dynamic, toolsy, star-level leadoff man." While he also sees the injury history as a red flag, when you’re looking at potential, there may not be a more exciting prospect to look forward to for next season.

There's a chance that Jennings stays in Triple-A for a short time next year for some seasoning, which is fine. I’d certainly hedge my bets that we’ll be seeing him in the majors.

There may not be a better time for fantasy owners to buy Jennings than next season. It will probably be the cheapest he’ll come. When he makes it to the majors, we may be seeing a player with 20 HR ability, 50 steals, and excellent on-base skills. He could be a five-category stud in no time.

What do you guys think? Will Desmond Jennings make the Tampa Bay Rays next year? Where will Carl Crawford be?


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