Advertisement
  1. Rays

Desmond Jennings looks to emerge for Rays

Desmond Jennings, 27, racked up career highs in many categories in 2013, his second full big-league season, including home runs (14), RBI (54) and extra-base hits (51).
Published Mar. 19, 2014

PORT CHARLOTTE — Two years ago, Rays outfielder Desmond Jennings had to replace Carl Crawford in leftfield. Last year, Jennings took over for B.J. Upton in center. But this season, it's Jennings' turn to be … Jennings. While there always have been natural comparisons to former Rays star outfielders Crawford and Upton, Jennings has the tools to make his own mark. "He can do anything he wants to," says Upton, now with the Braves. "That guy is very talented. He can hit for power, hit for average. Sometimes it takes a little bit to put it together. But he has all the ability in the world." Jennings, 27, racked up career highs in many categories in 2013, his second full big-league season, including home runs (14), RBIs (54) and extra-base hits (51). Jennings, though, didn't feel like he played up to his capabilities and said he needs to be more consistent. He hit .252, with an infield fly rate of 12.5 percent and 115 strikeouts with 64 walks. But the Rays have been impressed with what they've seen from Jennings this spring, from the way he has driven the ball to how driven he is.

"I think this is the year you see Desmond Jennings shine," bench coach Dave Martinez said. "I know he's had really good numbers in the past in the minor leagues, he's done well in the big leagues. But I think you're going to see Desmond this year put up some really big numbers, I really do. He's very confident, he's healthy, he's ready to go."

Jennings was rolling, a catalyst in the leadoff spot, until a fractured left middle finger in August forced him to miss 12 games. A little anxious when he got back, Jennings hit just .153 in his first 18 games. But he bounced back with a big September, with three homers and 13 RBIs and a .925 OPS.

"I definitely feel like I was focusing more, more locked in on pitches," Jennings said. "If I play like I did in September, if I play like that in April to October, it'll be a little different."

Manager Joe Maddon said Jennings is still learning, and he knows he can get better. Jennings, who had 31 steals in 2012, dropped to 20 last year. As much range as Jennings has shown in center — and Maddon believes he can win a Gold Glove — he made three errors last season, snapping a streak of 262 games without one.

To Maddon, it's all linked to Jennings improving his on-base percentage (.334 last season).

"Once he starts doing that, everything else is going to really take off," Maddon said. "His base-stealing will get better, his confidence will drive up, you're going to see him do even better stuff on defense. If he can arrive at that 35 percent at least getting on base, this guy will become an elite player. He's on the borderline of that right now."

Like Upton, who had three 20-homer seasons with Tampa Bay, Jennings boasts pop in his bat. "Incredible power," Maddon said. "He's hit some of the longest home runs we've had."

Maddon said Upton, Crawford and Jennings are all "superior in regards to athleticism" and can create havoc on the bases. Jennings said he'd love to hit leadoff, though he could share those duties with left-handed hitting David DeJesus.

"From my perspective, that's the most important spot, to set the tone, get things started the right way," Jennings said. "I feel like that's what I want to do. But I'm willing to hit wherever. I just want to be in the lineup every day and I want to win, so if that means I hit first or I hit 11th, I just want to be out there."

And just be himself.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow him on Twitter @TBTimes_JSmith.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. The Rays' Travis d'Arnaud drives in three runs with a bases-loaded double during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels. MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ  |  AP
    Since the May trade for $100,000, d’Arnaud has been a key contributor to the Rays’ success on and off the field.
  2. Brendan McKay, shown here in July at the Trop as the Rays' DH against the Orioles, comes through with his first major-league hit on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, against the Angels. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    After winning his June debut on the mound, the rookie gets his first hit Sunday. Also, Pagan as the savior, Meadows keeps streaking.
  3. The Angels' Andrelton Simmons beats the throw to Rays catcher Mike Zunino to score on a double by Albert Pujols during the first inning on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019. ALEX GALLARDO  |  AP
    On the merits of resiliency, Yarbrough’s career-high workload, Pham’s adventurous albeit not costly trip around the bases.
  4. Rays shortstop Willy Adames battles a ground ball up the middle but can't come up with the single hit by the Angels' Kevan Smith during the third inning on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019. ALEX GALLARDO  |  AP
    Angels 6, Rays 4: A rough outing by Ryan Yarbrough puts Tampa Bay down early, and a late rally wasn’t enough.
  5. The Rays wrap up their series with the Angels today at picturesque Angel Stadium in Anaheim. MARC TOPKIN  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Tommy Pham is hitting leadoff as the Rays go with six righty hitters vs. Angels lefty Sandoval.
  6. From left, Tampa Bay Rays' Joey Wendle, Austin Meadows and Ji-Man Choi meet at home plate after all three were driven in by a bases-loaded double from Travis d'Arnaud during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels, Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ  |  AP
    Rays 3, Angels 1: Glasnow’s solid start, and six strong innings from the bullpen are enough as Rays open lead over Indians.
  7. Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Jalen Beeks, left, and Johnny Davis congratulate each other after the Rays defeated the Los Angeles Angels 11-4 in a baseball game Friday, Sept. 13, 2019, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill) MARK J. TERRILL  |  AP
    He shows off that elite speed Friday with a triple for his first hit, then some pent-up emotion afterward.
  8. Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (39) celebrates in the dugout after scoring on a single from Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Daniel Robertson (28) at the bottom of the eighth inning against Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday, Sept. 07, 2019 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.   ALLIE GOULDING  |  Times
    Tyler Glasnow will be on the mound for his second outing since an extended injured list stint.
  9. Tampa Bay Rays' Austin Meadows, right, is greeted in the dugout after a two-run home run against the Texas Rangers during the eighth inning of a baseball game Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019, in Arlington, Texas. RICHARD W. RODRIGUEZ  |  AP
    Fred McGriff should be at the top, but there is an interesting list that Austin Meadows is already making a case to join.
  10. For several weeks, Rays manager Kevin Cash has had to look over his shoulder to see whether the Indians or Athletics have been gaining in the American League wild card race. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The Rays, Indians and A’s are all projected to win 94 or more games. In the past quarter-century, only one team has won that much and failed to make the playoffs.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement