Like he did in 2012, Desmond Jennings entered the new season with a whole lot of promise, but with a little over a month to play, the Rays center fielder is on pace for what amounts to be a so-so season with 11 home runs, 72 runs, 40 RBIs and 17 steals with 33 games left on the schedule.
Selected as the 23rd outfielder in 2013 drafts, according to FantasyPros.com, Jennings hasn’t lived up to preseason expectations, as he’s currently the No. 43 outfielder on the ESPN Player Rater behind draft day afterthoughts like Nate Schierholtz, Rajai Davis and Michael Brantley. Jennings was the No. 51 outfielder in 2012, so little progress has been made there, and he finds himself outside the top-135 overall despite being taken as the 81st player off the boards in March. Ouch.
The biggest drop off for Jennings has come in the form of steals. After swiping a career-high 31 bags in 33 attempts last season, he’s down to 17 in 24 attempts this year. Fantasy owners who drafted Jennings with a high pick are certainly left disappointed and craving more, as a lot of his preseason value was tied directly to the chances of repeating a 30-steal season.
At the plate, Jennings is slowly making strides—recently raising his slash to .250/.323/.404 through 110 games—while developing a sharper eye at the plate with improvements in both his strikeout rate (21.3 percent in 2012; 19.7 percent in 2013) and walk rate (8.2 percent in 2013; 9.6 percent in 2013). Another noticeable improvement in Jennings’ approach is in his O-Swing%, which has dropped from 27.6 percent in 2012 to 25.2 percent in 2013—the 23rd best rate in the league. While these admittedly aren’t giant strides, it’s enough to consider taking advantage of if an owner isn’t paying close enough attention.
When we take a look at Jennings power, 11 home runs and a .154 ISO (.143 ISO in 2012) doesn’t seem like much, but his batted ball distance of 291.39 feet from BaseballHeatMaps.com suggest his 9.4 percent home run rate is somewhat fluky. His previous two years sat in the 270-feet range, so there’s some serious power potential lurking behind the numbers. Jennings is also hitting fewer fly balls, which is another example of improved bat control.
With disappointment comes opportunity and another “meh” year for Jennings could provide a giant opportunity for savvy owners looking to pick the tree of a disgruntled owner. If I’m looking to make an under-the-radar move for the future, Jennings is near the top of my list. From a contract based/non-fantasy angle, Dave Cameron at FanGraphs had Jennings on his annual top-50 Trade Value list. Here’s what Dave had to say about him:
“Jennings might be the quietest star player in baseball. After spending his first few years playing next to B.J. Upton, he’s now taken over center field full time, and he continues to progress as a hitter at the same time. While he falls into the category of guys with somewhat mixed offensive track records, he’s over 1,000 plate appearances of above average offense and hasn’t yet turned 27-years-old.”
“There’s enough variance in his game that he could go either direction on this list. The upside is there for him to turn into Andrew McCutchen Lite and be among the most valuable players in the game.”
When Dave speaks, I listen, and these are glowing reviews for an outfielder not yet in his prime. Dave, of course, is also factoring in defense, as Jennings is considered one of the premiere center fielders in baseball. Still, being mentioned in the same breath with a talent like Andrew McCutchen should make your ears perk up.
Jennings is a bona fide 100-run outfielder (if he could just stay healthy) with 20/20 potential as soon as 2014. If he ever gets his BA above .275, we’d really have something on our hands. As things stand, Jennings makes a wise offseason target in all keeper and dynasty formats. He’s still plenty young with plenty of talent.