Desmond Jennings hasn’t played his first full season in the big leagues yet, but it doesn’t seem like he’s too far away from becoming a star. With less than a hundred big league games under his belt so far in his brief career, it’s become clear that the 25-year-old has a bright future ahead of him.
Jennings has all the tools for a successful career, but the million dollar question is when will his talents transform him into a star. He’s a potential five-tool outfielder with excellent speed, great range, some power, terrific baserunning skills, and the ability to hit for average and get on base.
Jennings burst onto the scene as a late-season call-up for the Rays last year, and immediately made an impact putting up some impressive numbers in his rookie season. In 63 games, he batted .259/.356/.449 with 25 RBI, 10 HR and 20 stolen bases.
After 16 games, it looks like Jennings is on the right track to start his 2012 season, batting .262./.319/.385 with 2 HR, 7 RBI and 3 stolen bases. Although his on-base percentage is not as high as it was last year, or probably where he’d like it to be this season, Jennings has gave the Rays the consistent leadoff guy they need thus far. It’s obviously to early to judge anything, but he definitely hasn’t been a disappointment.
Defense is another area of his game that helps show he’s gradually turning into a star in Tampa Bay. Jennings has done an outstanding job in left field ever since he’s been called up to the majors, making highlight reel catches on balls that many outfielders can’t get to. He’s also filled in a bit in center, a position that he has a legitimate future in and would make him an even more valuable player to his team.
In just his second season, there’s only one thing standing in between him and stardom. That single weakness has been contact hitting. Jennings posted a strikeout percentage of 20.6 last year, and has not yet improved this season with a percentage of 20.8. Both ratios are considered below league average, especially for leadoff hitters.
High strikeout totals are normal for young players—even young stars—in their first couple of years, which is why it shouldn’t be too much of a concern for the Rays. With ridiculously good speed and a nice line-drive stoke, good things usually happen when Jennings makes contact with the baseball. Once Jennings starts to cut down on the strikeouts, the other parts of his game will excel more than ever before.
Better contact hitting will not only effect Jennings’ overall numbers, but it can also make a huge difference in the Rays’ offense. Less strikeouts would lead to a higher OBP, which would lead to more stolen bases, which would would lead to more runners in scoring position, which would ultimately lead to more runs scored. Jennings will improve as a player and likely breakout as a star when his strikeout ratios decrease.
Jennings’ scary close similarities between former Rays superstar left fielder Carl Crawford can give us an idea of when Jennings could really start to shine at the big league level.
Both Crawford and Jennings are speedy leadoff-hitting left fielders who came into the league with somewhat similar expectations, making this a pretty good comparison, although Crawford started his career at a younger age. Amazingly, they both played 63 games in their rookie seasons and batted exactly .259. Although Crawford had 10 more RBI in his strong rookie year, Jennings probably had the better season with 11 more stolen bases, eight more homers and a much higher OBP.
Crawford started to emerge as a star in his sophomore year and first full season, stealing a league-high 55 stolen bases while batting a solid .281. Jennings is currently in his sophomore year and first full season, which is why we can expect to see him begin to rise as a young star by the end of this year.
I don’t expect Jennings to turn into one of the top leadoff men in the league as quick as Crawford did, but I would be a bit surprised if he doesn’t reach his All-Star caliber potential within the next year or so. Just like Crawford, Jennings’ great speed will be what separates him from the many talented outfielders in the American League. In addition to that, I believe his natural power could make him really something special, as well as a serious 20-40 threat as early as this year.
A little over a month ago on The Rays Rant, I wrote a full-year stat projection article on Desmond Jennings, predicting all of his major statistics for the 2012 season. Click here to check it out if you haven’t seen it yet.
The Tampa Bay Rays have a very short, but interesting history. The franchise has changed so much in a 13-year span, probably more than any other team. It’s a team that has suffered through plenty of bad seasons, but have had some miraculous ones too. So far there aren’t any Rays jerseys hanging in Cooperstown, but the emerging young talent is looking to change that. On this list I will rank the top 10 overall-best Tampa Bay Rays players; all the way from 1998. All position players who played over 300 games for the Rays and pitchers who were on the roster for at least two seasons, are eligible for the list. This automatically excludes some star names, like Jose Canseco and Wade Boggs. Still, super stars such as Carl Crawford, Fred McGriff, and Evan Longoria highlight a great top 10.
7.) B.J. Upton– B.J. Upton has proved to be one of the most valuable players to ever wear a Rays uniform. His career WAR of 19.8 is the fourth highest of all time for the franchise. He’s been a big part of the Rays’ past success, but still hasn’t played up to his full potential. Upton (along with Longoria) carried the Rays through the 2008 magical postseason run, blasting seven homeruns in the playoffs. Upton has been a huge part of the club for seven years now. His terrific speed, power, and great defense in center are all reasons why BJ is a big name in Tampa Bay. Below are Upton’s career stats:
6.) Fred McGriff– Fred McGriff, the “Crime Dog”, was one of the premier sluggers of the Devil Ray era. He spent five years playing for his hometown team in Tampa Bay, starting from the ’98 Inaugural Year. The six-time All Star was the franchise’s first real good hitter, along with Hall of Famer Wade Boggs. McGriff closed out his great career strong as a Devil Ray, hitting 99 homers and batting over .290 through his five seasons. Here are his career Tampa Bay Devil Rays stats:
|TBD (5 yrs)||577||2074||277||603||102||99||359||11||305||433||.291||.380||.484||.864||1004|
5.) Scott Kazmir– Scott Kazmir was the ace of the Rays’ rotation in four out of his six years on the team. He was amongst the franchise’s three original farm-gown stars, including his Texas-native teammates Aubrey Huff and Carl Crawford. Kazmir was really the only starting pitching the Rays had until 2008, when the team went worst to first. Considering the Devil Rays’ lack of arms in the rotation, the two-time All Star was one of baseball most valuable pitchers for a while. Kazmir’s years are probably behind him, but he had a heck of a run with the Rays. Here are career numbers as a Ray:
|TBR (6 yrs)||55||44||.556||3.92||145||834.0||777||400||87||382||9||874||1.390|
4.) Aubrey Huff– Aubrey Huff was the team’s main power source in most of his seven years as a member of the Devil Rays. Huff was an offensive machine for the team in his seasons, raking 128 homeruns and knocking in 449 runs. His solid defense at first base and ability to hit well for average, also added to his player value. Here are his stats for his Devil Rays career:
|TBD (7 yrs)||799||3028||400||870||172||128||449||20||247||412||.287||.343||.477||.819||1444|
3.) James Shields– Statistics don’t show how much “Big Game James” has meant to the Rays. More than any other Rays starter in history, Shields wins games. Especially the the big games (hence the nickname). Shields has played six seasons for the Rays, and has been a big part of the rotation for most of his short career. After a disappointing 2010 season, Shields came back with an incredible season last year. He lead the terrific young Rays pitching staff, with a 2.82 ERA and 16 wins. He finished third in the Cy Young voting, and was elected to his first All Star Game. He’s the most valuable Rays pitcher of all time, and he looks like he’s just getting better. Here are his lifetime stats:
2.) Evan Longoria– Since Carl Crawford departed to Boston last winter, Longoria has been the face of the franchise. The true leader of the team; the man who’s been carrying the Rays every since his monster rookie year back in ’08. Not only is Longoria a hometown hero in Tampa, but he’s also one of the best players in all the big leagues. The 27 year-old has big-time power, amazing defense, and hits in the clutch better than any Ray ever. He’s played only four seasons in the majors, but has already blasted over 100 homers and 400 RBIs. It’s only a matter of time before Longoria becomes the best Tampa Bay Rays player ever. Here are his career stats:
1.) Carl Crawford– I don’t think there’s a question of who’s the best Ray ever. Carl Crawford leads the franchise’s history in average, RBIs, runs, hits, stolen bases, WAR (36.8), and games played. All the way from 2002 to 2010, Crawford was the heart and soul of the franchise. CC was there for the good times and the bad, but was a great baseball player the whole way through.
|TBR (9 yrs)||1235||4992||765||1480||215||105||104||592||409||293||768||.296||.337||.444||.781||2217|
A better script couldn’t be written than the story of the 2011 Tampa Bay Rays. In 2008, it was a story with new “chapters” added as the magical season progressed. The sequel to that story is not 2009 or 2010, it’s this year. This year is the second year that the Rays have shocked the baseball nation. What makes this season so amazing is how the Rays earned a spot in the playoffs after this long and winding road of the regular season. An unforgettable season that will go down in baseball history because of the epic collapse of the Boston Red Sox. A team that was often a preseason favorite to win it all, after their enormous off-season. Just like in 2008, everyone wrote off the Rays in the beginning of the season. It seemed as if many criticts would prove to be right when the Rays were trailing the Wild Card by 9 games in September. The hustling and worry-free Rays then started to slowly climb back into the picture, as the pressured Red Sox were totally collapsing. It would come down to the wire, game 162, to decide who would play in October or if there would be a tiebreaker. The Rays were trailing 7-0 in the 8th, and Boston was up in the 9th with two outs and nobody on. It couldn’t more perfect than what happened on that historic night. The Rays would comeback and be saved by Dan Johnson, just like in 2008, and would walk-off by none other than Tampa Bay’s sports icon Evan Longoria. But it gets even better though. Meanwhile in Baltimore, Paplebon is trying to close out a sure win. With a 3-2 Boston lead, the O’s were down to their last out of the season with the bases empty. There would be no Irish Jig for Paplebon that night, as the Birds would smack three hits in a row for a comeback victory.
The last hit was a catchable line-drive to left field, and guess who dropped the baseball to end their depressing season? Oh yes, it was Carl Crawford. It was just a perfect day of baseball. That night really defined the miraculous season for the Rays into a nutshell. Being down 7-0 in the 8th with their rivals an out a way from winning, the Rays once again showed the world that anything is possible in the game of baseball. Nobody would of ever thought it would all play it like this; but that’s not what the Rays needed to win. The incredible season isn’t over, as they still have another big mission in 2011. The Rays want and can bring a title to Tampa. Doing that would silence the countless critics and fans that have been putting down the Rays’ fans and stadium all year. Winning it all would surely quiet the many saying that relocation is the only option for the franchise. Last night was a step in the right direction, as the Rays stunned the Rangers with a brutal 9-0 Game 1 win in Arlington.
Phenom Matt Moore was called to start the game against the huge Texas bats in just his second major league start. Just called up a few weeks ago, Moore didn’t let anyone down with a stellar outing. Seven scoreless innings in a postseason game at Arlington is absolutely remarkable. With all the momentum, it will be exciting to see what the Rays can do in the postseason. But just like in the regular season, we’ll just have to wait and see how it all plays out.
Carl Crawford was the face of the franchise for the Rays for nine long years. He was a fan favorite in Tampa Bay, with his ridiculous speed, acrobatic catches, and clutch hits. The inevitable transfer came during the offseason this year, when Crawford was signed by Boston for a mammoth $ 142 million contract through 7 years. Crawford did a lot to prove that a 30-year old ballplayer could be signed for a gigantic contract like that, by having a tremendous 2010 season. Things were looking up for CC until the season actually started. Crawford started horrendous in the first two months, and still has disappointed Red Sox Nation hitting .259 in late September with a very low stolen base total. Crawford was aware of the poor season more than anyone, and recently started an ‘apologetic diary’ to Red Sox Nation. Something tells me that the $142 million contract had a little bit to do with his idea to start a diary.
The diary, which is written at ESPNboston.com, basically states ‘Sorry for the year I’ve had’. But when Carl tried to elaborate, things didn’t exactly go as planned. From a reader’s standpoint, it seemed as if he was attacking Rays fans while praising Boston fans. Some controversial quotes included: “If Tampa makes a miracle comeback and takes the wild card from us, I will be devastated. I definitely wouldn’t want to lose to those guys and watch them get into the playoffs while we go home. That would just be devastating to me.” Really? It’s devastating when the team that made you who you are succeeds, but when the Angels or Yankees beat you it’s fine? That wasn’t all though. Crawford also called out Rays fans: “It was a bunch of haters in left field, pretty much.” But Crawford also had some words for the Red Sox fans who apparently never do any ‘heckling’: “You guys have been really supportive and I appreciate that.” Tell me this guy isn’t the MVP suck-up of the year. Just the fact that Crawford decided to make an ‘apologetic diary’ makes him suck-up. When Crawford said “I just want to say I’m sorry for the year I’ve had”, I don’t think that’s ‘just’ what he had to say.
The truth is that the only way he is going to win over Red Sox Nation is by playing better. Sucking-up just doesn’t work in Boston. Unfortunately, it looks as CC has tarnished his reputation in Tampa. He may have got the filled seats and fan energy he asked for, but he won’t welcome anymore in the “empty seats” of the Trop. It’s just sad what money does to good people.
As of early May this season, it seemed like a new legend may have been born in Tampa Bay. Although there was plenty of talent expected out of the Matt Garza trade, Sam Fuld wasn’t exactly a highlighted name when the trade was publicly announced across the nation. For a matter of fact, Samuel “Sam” Babson Fuld was many times given the title of “….and a minor league player”. Going into Spring Training, Fuld had a lot to prove. Although Fuld wasn’t a big name, the expectations weren’t so low. Without Crawford the Rays didn’t know who their left fielder would be. They knew they had options, but they were also aware that it was very unlikely they were going to have a close replacement to Crawford in the near future. Crawford was a big blow to the Rays at first, no Ray outfielder could potentially do all the things Crawford did in the previous year. Fuld took this opportunity, and made the best out of it. Although he only batted a mild .277 in Spring Training, Maddon liked what he saw and Fuld became the Rays Opening Day starter out in left. Fuld responded to this by starting of the season with a bang, exactly the opposite of the team. As the Rays continued to struggle in April, Fuld went on a tear with a 28-hit month. His name started to grab national attention in a heart-beat, and the Rays had another young player rise up in the baseball world.
His name really started to get notice when he made a nearly impossible catch against the White Sox in Chicago. In didn’t take long at all before he was dubbed “Super Sam”. Amazing catch after amazing catch was made across ballparks in America, and it was clear that his glove was going to be his signature tool in the big leagues. As his career was building, so was the Rays win column. The Rays would keep on winning, but Sam Fuld average was rapidly dipping. Fuld cooled off offensively in May, hitting a low .157 average. But his speed on the basepads and his glovework in left field kept him in the lineup, and his legend alive. Although these things continued through the season, Fuld was just not getting it done at the plate. Maddon was pretty much forced to remove him from his everyday-starter role, and the legend began to slowly disintegrate. Then there were injuries and things got even worse for Fuld. Then phenom Desmond Jennings was called up, and ultimately took over the job in left field.
Jennings’ call-up was a big boost for the team, but Fuld was almost totally forgotten at that point. Here we are in a tight race in mid-September, and Fuld is out with a hurt wrist and hasn’t played a game since late-August. Desmond Jennings is now the everyday-starter in left field, and Sam Fuld’s legend has virtually disappeared. Fuld still has a bright future ahead of him, and I truly believe that he will eventually restore the legend. Although his bat wasn’t so great in ’11, his glove and speed was still impressive. It wasn’t a bad rookie year at all, not many can light up the highlight reel like that guy. Hopefully he’ll be a Ray for a long time, and we’ll always have a fearless outfielder to count on. Wether he’s crashing in to walls, warming up on the mound, or wearing a cape; Sam Fuld was meant to be a Ray.
The Rays home grown stars. Some names include Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford, Jeremy Hellickson, James Shields, and many more.
What’s the Rays secret for their success with bringing up prospects that are quality MLB players? Many ask this question. The answer is patience. Nobody is rushed through the Rays farm system, every player is 100% percent ready to take their first steps in the big leagues. This is another example of the Rays organization’s ability to always look ahead. The Rays know the possible consequences of calling up a minor league player to early. Keeping a top prospect in the minors for a while will make him develop and prepare better for a big league career. To me it’s just common sense; would you rather have a player develop in the minors or during a pennant race in a MLB season. Jeremy Hellickson and Desmond Jennings are great examples of how being patient payed off for the Rays. When asked about the subject Hellickson said, ” It definitely helps, the longer you’re down there, the more opportunities you’re going to have to develop and work on stuff.” Jennings is also is thankful that the Rays took their time to call him up. Last year at the end of the season they called him up just for a few games. It was obvious he needed a little more time to develop. The Rays were very aware of that, and almost a year later Jennings is playing like an All-Star.
The next Ray prospect to probably be called up, is fireball southpaw Matt Moore. Expect to see him work on his stuff in the minors for a while. Patience is just another example of “Doing it the Rays’ Way”.