If Tampa Bay wishes to contend in 2011, it’ll need major contributions from the young players on their roster who are being called upon to replace Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett and essentially the entire bullpen.
Desmond Jennings is one of these players.
Jennings was drafted in the 10th round of the 2006 MLB Amateur Draft but climbed through the ranks to become MLB.com’s sixth-ranked minor league prospect at the start of 2010.
He has earned a reputation as one of the best young base stealers in the game, swiping 52 bases in 59 attempts in 2009 (88.1 percent), while adding 39 more in 45 tries (86.7 percent) in his time split between Triple-A and the majors last season.
Injuries had been an issue for Jennings, but he has managed to stay injury-free these last two seasons, which has allowed him to showcase his talents.
Over 1,035 minor league plate appearances in ’09 and ’10, Jennings combined good plate discipline (11.3 percent BB rate) and a low strikeout rate (15.0 percent) to ensure he got on base with frequency (.384 OBP). For your would-be base stealer, those are great signs. A 50-SB season seems more of a “when” than an “if.”
At 6'2", 200 pounds, Jennings is rather big, and although he has only 29 home runs in 1,581 at-bats in the minors, he does have deceptive power. He tallied 52 extra-base hits in 2009 (11 HR) but just 36 last season (three HR). However, for comparison, Crawford hit only 17 HR in 1,714 minor league at-bats, and he has developed into a 15-plus-homer threat every season.
How many at-bats will Jennings get in 2011?
Unfortunately, like with most financially strapped clubs, Tampa Bay will likely elect to keep Jennings in the minors to postpone his arbitration eligibility another season.
By rule, all players are eligible for free agency after six full seasons, which Major League Baseball constitutes as 172 days. Tampa Bay has a recent track record of exploiting this, as they held Evan Longoria in Triple-A for two weeks during the 2008 season in order to buy themselves another year of control.
The arbitration rules get complex, as there are certain players who qualify for “Super Two” status, but the take-home message is that there’s a good chance we won’t see Jennings right away. Still, in head-to-head leagues especially (where a player’s September performance is what really matters as long as you make the playoffs), Jennings could be quite valuable.
The good news is the Rays really like Jennings. The bad news is that they also liked Johnny Damon enough to sign him this offseason. With Ben Zobrist, B.J. Upton and Damon garnering most of the outfield at-bats (and don’t forget about Matt Joyce), Tampa won’t be in any rush to get Jennings to the majors.
When Jennings does make his debut, whether it’s April, June, August or later, he can still find playing time here and there (assuming no major injuries to Tampa Bay’s outfield). Zobrist can play second base to spell Sean Rodriguez, and manager Joe Maddon does like to juggle the lineup on a daily basis.
Bottom line: if Jennings gets the call and he has a place to play, he’ll have value. Until then, let someone else waste a roster spot.
2011 Fantasy Projection
.272 | 45 R | 2 HR | 25 RBI | 27 SB | 225 AB
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