I have been a huge fan of Desmond Jennings as he climbed the minor league ladder. He looked like he could potentially be a Carl Crawford clone for fantasy leaguers with mid-teen home run potential, a boat load of stolen bases and a good batting average buoyed by a solid contact rate. But after teasing us with a 24 homer/48 steal season prorated to 600 at-bats in 2011, he was a bit of a disappointment this year.
Jennings was limited to 505 at-bats (despite hitting lead-off in the majority of games) after a knee injury disabled him early in the season, causing him to miss most of May. His speed did not seem to suffer though as he was caught stealing just once after returning and amazingly only twice all year. Aside from his time at Single-A in 2007 when he was caught 15 times, he has been a remarkably strong base-stealer. This is important because he only attempted 33 steals this year. With Spd scores consistently over 8.0, he clearly has the ability to steal 50 in a season. It’s just a matter of running more frequently. With his success rate, he should run at any good opportunity he sees. For that reason, he has considerable upside in the category in 2013, and the Crawford comparison might look more appropriate at that time.
The primary reason for Jennings’ disappointing year was due to his batting average. Up until 2010 at Triple-A, Jennings had made pretty good contact. Basically, what you want to see from someone who has around league average power. Then something happened in 2011 as Jennings’ contact rate dipped, and that has carried over to the Majors. With below average contact ability now, combined with just league average BABIP marks, Jennings hasn’t been able to avoid hurting a fantasy team in the batting average category. His SwStk% and Contact% are both better than the league average, so there is hope that he’ll experience a rebound. He does have to hit fewer pop-ups though, as he finished third in all of baseball in IFFB%. He always posted high BABIP marks in the minors, and with some small adjustments, I think that could return. As a result, I think he has some significant batting average upside.
Jennings teased us in 2011 when he surprisingly popped 10 homers in just 247 at-bats and posted a 15.6% HR/FB ratio. No one expected that to be repeated, but he is showing the mid-teen Crawford-like power initially presumed he possessed. His average fly ball plus home run distance was just a bit above the league average, which isn’t too far off base with his HR/FB ratio that was just a bit below the league average. He didn’t hit many doubles that could potentially turn into home runs and his distance data suggests that he’ll stay in the 10% range for now.
As you could tell, I am still a big fan of Jennings. He has clearly identifiable issues that he appears to have the ability to improve upon. He’s very close to becoming a top fantasy player and he could very well have a season in which he finds his name in the first round during 2014 drafts.