If you're a baseball fan and you have a pulse, you probably had your eyes fixated on your television or computer screen during the utter craziness that was the final day of the regular season, September 28, 2011. Four teams entered that day with their seasons on the line, and when the dust had finally settled and the blood had dried, both the Red Sox and Braves had completed epic collapses and the Rays and Cardinals shockingly found themselves in the playoffs.
The last image from that night was of Evan Longoria sprinting around the bases and into a pile of his hysterical teammates. Longoria's game-ending home run resulted in the Tampa Bay Rays improbably leap-frogging their richer AL East dwellers from Boston after having been ten games behind just a month before. However, the Rays would never have been in that spot if not for a mid-year, season-changing call up: that of one Desmond Delane Jennings.
Desmond Jennings was crowned the Rays' heir apparent to Carl Crawford from seemingly the day he was drafted. As a speedy, five-tool outfield prospect, he seemed to be a perfect replica to insert in left field when Crawford inevitably left for free agency. That's exactly what happened, but while Crawford was busy torpedoing Boston's season, Jennings may have saved Tampa's.
Jennings began the year by repeating AAA, after his development stalled with a subpar, injury-marred season there in 2010. When the Rays finally realized that Sam Fuld couldn't hit (and when Jennings' arbitration clock had been sufficiently delayed), Jennings got the call on July 23rd and Tampa Bay's season changed course. With Jennings entrenched in the leadoff spot, the Rays went 39-25 down the stretch to bull their way into the playoffs. Where before the Ray's left field situation had been the great wall of suck, Jennings changed all of that. He absolutely tore it up in August, hitting .333/.415/.611, showing almost a Rickey Henderson-ish combination of skills at the top of the order.
Jennings has always been described as a Crawford clone, only with less contact skill but more power and patience. He definitely fit that bill last season, sporting a .358 OBP while bashing ten home runs in two months (Crawford has only topped .358 once in his career). He was also a terror on the bases, stealing 20 bases, and he likely has a future as a center fielder if the Rays trade or non-tender B.J. Upton. So he has a power/speed combo and is probably going to be toiling at a premium position before too long. That means he has rotisserie stud written all over him, right? What's not to like?
Not so fast, buddy. Jennings slumped miserably in September, OPSing an unspeakable .504. While some of that might have been BABIP shenanigans (.195 for the month!), he was basically worthless with the bat in the final month and his power completely dried up (though he did hit two bombs in the playoffs). Also, if you're looking for a perennial .300 hitter, look elsewhere. He's seen as more of a power-and-walks guy than a player who will contend for batting titles on a yearly basis.
Verdict: Boom. Look, I love the guy. I think he projects to be even better than Crawford and I think he's got a 25-homer, 50-steal season or two in him. He has good plate awareness, draws his share of walks, and he should be a high-OBP guy and, by extension, give you a good OPS. All of the talent was on full display last August. If you can stomach some relatively low batting averages, you'll get big production in all of the other relevant categories. He's going to be a star and he's going to be worthy of a high-mid-round pick as soon as this season.