Desmond Jennings Has Rollercoaster 2011 for Rays

In 2011, the buzz about Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Desmond Jennings seems to have shifted from polarizing, to tantalizing, to polarizing once again. Apparently, I’ve somewhat positioned myself in the center of that argument on Twitter as a mention seems to come my way regarding Jennings after every multi-hit game or hitless performance. Whether gloating, or backing up my assessment of the young outfielder, Jennings the player provides for a great opportunity to discuss the black-and-white nature of scouting and just how finicky prospect followers can be.

Triple-A video of Jennings after the jump.

Back in June, I posted a piece entitled “Dialing Desmond Jennings” discussing reasons why the Rays had not promoted Jennings as “The Legend of Sam Fuld” had seemingly died in just as epic a way as it began. In that piece, I considered Jennings more Austin Jackson (with better on-base skills) than Andrew McCutchen as I struggled to see the truly explosive tools he was rumored to have. In all fairness, Jackson is certainly not a bad baseball player as his two full seasons at the big league level have yielded an average of 3.45 WAR during his age 23-24 seasons, placing him 50th amongst all offensive players.

At the same time, I began updating my top-25 players scouted list again and ranked Jennings 20th overall sandwiched between Astros prospect Jonathan Singleton and Padres prospect Robert Erlin who were both dealt at the trade deadline. In July and August, I ranked Jennings 20th and 18th overall respectively which is complementary considering I’ve personally scouted an estimated 100 players who have ranked in a major top-100 at one point.

With a 2.4 WAR debut in less than half a season’s worth of plate appearances, it seems as if I underestimated Jennings’ upside potential, but I’m certainly not ready to anoint him the future of the Rays franchise just yet. The 2011 season was certainly an excellent debut, but his power totals and overall offensive performance collapsed late. Whether pitchers made adjustments, or his struggles were simply an extreme case of BABIP regression to offset his extreme early success, I’m not sure. However, it would be hypocritical of me not to strongly consider the role of BABIP in the grand scheme of things as my counter to the “Desmond Jennings for President” crowd was his BABIP in the early going bordering on insanity.

Maybe nicknaming Desmond Jennings “Sugar Rush” would be fitting as his domination caused quite a high in scouting circles followed by the kind of crash that leaves one comatose in a dark corner of the room having nightmares of diving catches of line drives and outfielders scaling walls to bring home runs back into the field of play.

For prospect fans, my simply wanting to temper the enthusiasm surrounding Jennings was considered sacrilegious by many who were familiar with his lofty prospect rankings and expected immediate greatness. In actuality, my motivation was to simply explain the black and white scenario of Jennings being boom or bust was not the correct way to analyze him as a prospect and the overall line does point to that. It just so happens that Jennings is currently a few shades of gray closer to star level than I originally anticipated.

In scouting, I’ve always used a general rule of 22-24-26 which generally holds true. In essence, it means the earlier a player reaches the big leagues for good, the higher the upside potential is. In Jennings case, his being 24 is normally an indicator of a future as a solid regular which is certainly nothing be ashamed of. To compare, Carl Crawford logged nearly 3,000 plate appearances by the end of his age-24 season including three seasons of 4.8 WAR or above production, ranking him as one of the best players in baseball prior to the 2011 season.

Desmond Jennings should be a fine player for the Rays going forward with performances which far outweigh his paltry pre-arbitration salaries – exactly what the organization needs to be successful. However, I’m still not sold on his being a star at the big league level, or Jennings maintaining the type of power he initially displayed. If that categorizes me as the Anti-Jennings, then I can live with that.

With two home runs in game three of their best of five series versus the Rangers which the Rays eventually lost, I anticipate an off-season full of lofty expectations and glowing write ups for Jennings. However, to fairly characterize him as a player, one must weigh both the highs and lows of Jennings rookie season without focusing strictly on one of the other. Personally, I’d rather fall a bit short on my projection of him than lump him with the game’s best at this point. If Jennings posts a six win season in 2012, I’ll be happy to eat some more crow. When it comes to Desmond Jennings, I’m just a glutton for punishment.




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Mike Newman is the Owner/Managing Editor ofROTOscouting, a subscription site focused on baseball scouting, baseball prospects and fantasy baseball. Follow me onTwitter. Likeus on Facebook.Subscribeto my YouTube Channel.


17 Responses to “Desmond Jennings Has Rollercoaster 2011 for Rays”

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  1. Sean says:

    The problem with a 22-24-26 rule is it assumes all major league organizations take the same approach to promoting talent, while we know TB has an intense dedication to service time manipul-, I mean, patient development of prospects. On another team Jennings would probably have been up by now.

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    • Kampfer says:

      I agree. Like Moore, he could have been promoted more than a year early if he is in some other organization. I mean if Moore was drafted by Detroit, he would have been the Tiger’s number 2 guy in the playoffs

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      • wow says:

        Moore started game 1 for the Rays.

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      • JG says:

        If Moore was drafted by Detroit, he’s probably arb-eligible (and a bloody sinkerballer) by now.

        But yeah, Jennings would have easily been up a year or even two years before now. That rule doesn’t work with extreme examples like Tampa and Detroit.

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    • Mike Newman says:

      In all honesty, I think the Rays not wanting to start the time clock is a bit overblown based on the recent history of the organization. I found the names/debut ages below with a 3-minute run through the roster.

      Upton – 19
      Crawford – 20
      Brignac – 22
      Longoria – 22
      Moore – 22
      Hellickson – 23
      Jennings – 23
      McGee – 23

      In retrospect, Jennings debut at 23 would have raised his ceiling a bit i my mind. However, I don’t really think manipulating his time clock changes anything really.

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      • Greg says:

        Upton and Craw were the old regime. Moore was a September call up and McGee wasn’t with the team all year.

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        • Mike Newman says:

          McGee made his debut late last year and broke camp on the big league roster this season. Early struggles led to a demotion and he earned his way back to Tampa. Even if you throw Crawford and Upton out the window, they still pushed Longoria without regard for his time clock. At present, they are also pushing both of their shortstop prospects in Beckham and Lee pretty hard to fill that spot.

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    • That’s all well and good, but if a kid is THAT ready to be up and making the kind of star impact at the major-league level that young, he’ll find a way to get up, one way or another.

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  2. travolta19 says:

    With Jennings, you also have to consider that he really didn’t play much baseball (focused on football) before the pros, and also lost development time to injury. I think the 22-24-26 rule certainly holds water when looking at career totals, as well as a general trend that the most talented players make it at younger ages. However, given the aforementioned Rays’ tendencies, as well as the two factors I mentioned, I think Jennings has some qualities that could lead to a solid peak in the majors.

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    • Mike Newman says:

      You make some good points travolta. However, a few things for you to consider as I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking through scenarios like this.

      Yes, Jennings missed time due to football, but he’s not the typical explosive/extremely raw prospect who comes out of football. From day one, he has had a solid batting eye and didn’t K a bunch. For me, this means Jennings may not have that growth potential you are assuming is there once he plays more games.

      Also, lost development time is just that. The hundreds of missed plate appearances can, and often do negatively affect a prospects top end potential. It’s time that’s lost for good.

      Also, I already posted previously that I think the Rays holding players back is overblown. If a prospect is deserving of a promotion, the Rays often do pull the trigger. And even if they do hold a guy back a few months, it often does not push a debut age back a full year.

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  3. Bien says:

    Mike, what do you think about his K rate? One of Deezy’s strengths has been his ability to control the zone in the minors with moderate gap power (and of course speed, speed, speed). This year, in both Durham/TB, his K rates jumped fairly dramatically while his walk rates remained steady. Certainly we expect higher level pitching, at the bigs at least, to challenge him, but I was a little disappointed to see the contact erode.

    Of course, while his debut was both hot and cold, the corollary (and pleasant surprise) was his power. He’s been long-projected to be in the 12-15 range, and hit 10 in just 287 PA this year. It’s not often you see a rookie ISO higher than any minor league level. From your observations, do you think this is tied to his increased K rate and he’s sacrificing contact for power? Or just some random uncorrelated small sample size phenomenon…

    Either way, I love me some Jennings, but oddly more as a .300/.380/.430 than a .270/.350/.460 (take advantage of that speed!)

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  4. longfellow terry says:

    I see Jennings more along the McCutchen comps then i do Austin jackson. McCutchen is considered one of the brightest young players in the league and now an all-star. Jennings k rate is a little higher then what McCutchen’s was thru out the minors and in the big leagues, but i think the power is quite equal and as I don’t see Jennings as a 25-30 homer guy i don’t see why 20 would be outta the question. McCutchen seems to be around a 275-280 hitter with 20 homer pop and the ability to steal 30 bags in his best year. I Don’t think it’s to crazy to project Jennings as 270-280 hitter with maybe a little less bombs in the 15-20 range (could very easily hit over 20), but could also hit 250. Which is what McCutchen hit this year. What Jennings will out do McCutchen in though is steals, McCutchen is a 20-25 steal guy on average where i see Jennings stealing 40 plus next year. If Jennings were to produce a .270/.350/.460 with 18 homers 40 something odd stolen bases and close to 100 runs I don’t see how he can’t be considered just as good if not better then McCutchen. Which would make Jennings more then just a solid big league option.

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    • Mike Newman says:

      McCutchen is considered one of the brightest young players in the league because he has close to 2,000 career plate appearances and is younger than Jennings. Plus, McCutchen played his upper level minor league ball at an age where he was significantly younger than the level of competition where Jennings was age appropriate for a prospect in AA-AAA. To simply translate those numbers without considering age-versus-level does McCutchen a disservice. The latter part of your argument about steals is fair, but Jennings’ 22 home runs across AAA and MLB this season was only 7 less than his entire minor league career COMBINED prior to 2011. With only 4 XBH in September/October combined, are you sure his power surge was not just an unsustainable binge? I’m not saying it was either, but I don’t have enough evidence to say Jennings will hit 15-20 HR in his prime. McCutchen HAS hit 23 in a season already. There’s a big difference there in proven power potential I just can’t move past.

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  5. longfellow terry says:

    Yeah i see what your saying with the age thing. And the evidence unless you count the small sample size he had this year def isn’t there to make the argument that he will be a 15-20 homer guy. I watched Jennings quite a bit and i think that he’s turned a corner between this year and when he got called up last year for a bit. I feel last year he was really pulling off most pitches and losing his power. In triple-A this year before he got called up he had 12 home runs which was his career high in the minors. The majors is def a step up but with AL east ballparks and some of the absolute atrocious pitching that there is in the AL east I think his power is easy 15 homers. But that’s just me.

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  6. kylejo says:

    Chase Utley would be a case against the 22-24-26 rule

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    • Mike Newman says:

      There are exceptions for every rule. Other exceptions are Ryan Braun, Matt Holliday and one more star who I don’t remember off the top of my head. Just about all the guys who fit this criteria are former big time college hitters.

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