Desmond Jennings is good. That much we know from his first week in the big leagues. Also, he is fast. Strong. Smooth. And quiet. Here are some things you may not know about the Rays outfielder of the future, who looks to be ready for the present:
Jennings starred in baseball (centerfielder), basketball (guard) and football (receiver, QB, defensive back) at Pinson Valley High in Birmingham, Ala., and was a Division I prospect in all three sports. He figured his future wasn't on the court and planned to play baseball and football until he had to decide. Georgia reportedly offered to let him play both, Auburn and Ole Miss were interested. But his heart was with Alabama, with plans to be the next great receiver.
But it wasn't that simple. The Indians drafted him out of high school, in the 18th round, so now pro baseball — his first love — was a legit option. Then he didn't qualify academically at Alabama (an issue with his core classes, he said). So he ended up at Itawamba (Miss.) Community College, was a Juco All-American with a nation-high 54 catches (848 yard, 6 TDs) in eight games, and starred on the diamond (.378, 29 steals). He still thought of going to Alabama, but when the Rays took him in the 10th round in 2006, he decided to sign (for $150,000), figuring if it didn't work out, he could go back to football.
"It was just the opportunity," Jennings said. "I didn't sign out of high school, so when the opportunity came around again, I thought it must happen for a reason. I didn't want to turn it down."
At 6 feet 2 and 200 pounds and with blazing speed, Jennings looks like he could make it in pro football. And he knows that Bucs coach Raheem Morris and Rays manager Joe Maddon are buddies. "Do I think I could play in the NFL? Why not," Jennings said. "It'd be tough. But it's possible."
Jennings is the middle one of three boys in what he said is a close and extended family. He was extremely close with his grandmother until she died in 2007 and helped care for an aunt who lived next door. He has four tattoos that are tributes to his family. He is a cousin of Andre Smith, an offensive tackle out of Alabama who was a first-round pick of the Bengals in 2009.
Jennings' success is making the Rays' 2006 draft look pretty good. RHP Ryan Reid (7th round) is at Triple A; C Nevin Ashley (6th) is, too, and likely will play in the majors; RHP Alex Cobb (4th) is already here doing well; and there is that Evan Longoria dude (1st). RHP Josh Butler (2nd) was traded in 2008 for Gabe Gross. RHP Nick Fuller (3rd) didn't sign; neither did LHP Mike Minor (13th), now a top Braves prospect.
The quiet type
Jennings provides an interesting package: power and speed, instinctive and athletic, laid-back and explosive. "He's definitely got a slow heartbeat," manager Joe Maddon said. "He's a flatliner a little bit, and I kinda like that. But this guy is a former football player, and he's been in some aggressive moments."
Growing up in the East Lake area of Birmingham, Ala., Jennings formed two simple opinions: the Alabama Crimson Tide was good, and the Auburn Tigers were bad. So what did he think of Auburn winning the national title in football last year? "I try not to think about it," he said. "It won't happen again."
In the lane
Jennings keeps it pretty low-key in the offseason besides his workouts, but he did pick up something fun — bowling. "I like bowling," he said. "I'm usually around 200."
Got a minute? Desmond Jennings
Must-see TV? I like the Fresh Prince (of Bel-Air).
Big night-out meal? I'm simple, so I'll go get pasta, like pasta alfredo.
Singer or band you'd like to be on stage with? It's got to be a female singer — I'd pick Ciara.
Worst job? I worked for UPS 3-4 years ago, running boxes from the truck to the porch, back and forth.
Dream date? (Singer) Keri Hilson.
The Rays on Thursday are hosting their first Tweet-Up. By definition, that's a gathering of people who use the Twitter social media service. It sounds kind of nerdy, having a group of people come to the game so they can spend the whole time using their phones to post and read Twitter messages, but it has become a popular event around the country. And they were savvy enough to invite CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell to host, guaranteeing some national TV attention. If you're on Twitter, or thinking about it (free, at twitter.com), here are some Rays-related accounts to follow:
Team: @RaysBaseball, @RaysRepublic
Players: @DAVIDprice14, @Evan3Longoria, @BJUPTON2, @SamFuld5, @ShopHouse10 (Kelly Shoppach), @TheZobrists, @d_jennings15, @ACobb53, @CheckwitECK (Mike Ekstrom)
Minor-leaguers: @AdamRussell36, @ceez_27 (Cesar Ramos), @reidbrignac, @jaybuente, @robdelaney55, @daner13 (Dane De La Rosa), @BrandonGuyer
Media: @SPTimesRays (Marc Topkin), @SPTimesRays2 (Joe Smith)
Talks with top draft pick RHP Taylor Guerreri have been limited thus far but should pick up closer to the Aug. 15 signing deadline; the Rays remain hopeful. … Expect the Andrew Friedman-to-Houston rumors to amplify after Jim Crane's $680 million purchase of the Astros is approved at the mid August owners meeting. … Manny Ramirez — remember him? — would have been eligible to return today, as noted by raysindex.com, had he served a 100-game suspension rather than "retire." … With all 3B Evan Longoria has had go wrong this year, someone opened a fake Facebook account in his name. … 1B coach Tom Foley, who retired in 1995, figures that with OF Matt Stairs designated for assignment by Washington, the only one of his former teammates still active is Boston RHP Tim Wakefield. … RHP Mike Ekstrom on seeing top prospect, LHP Matt Moore, pitch in Durham: "He's something else."