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Fantasy Baseball 2012: Desmond Jennings or Jason Heyward?

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I recently ranked Rays outfielder Desmond Jennings as my 20th ranked fantasy outfielder for 2012 and here was my reasoning:

20. Desmond Jennings, TB-Jennings made Rays fans wonder why Rays management waited so long to call him up in 2011, as he hit .259-.356-.449 with 10 HRs, 25 RBI, 40 runs and 20 stolen bases in just 247 at bats. He reached first base 72 times, via a walk or a single, and attempted a stolen base 26 times, roughly 36% of the time, which bodes well for 2012. I don't think he will be a big home run hitter, but he could approach 15 home runs and steal 30+ bases with a .260-.270 bating average. He owns a solid eye at the plate as he walked in almost 11% of his at bats, while striking out 20% of his at bats. Jennings had better strikeout rates in the minors, so we could see him strikeout less in 2012.

So, I project him to hit .260-.270 with around 15 HRs and 30+ stolen bases, which is pretty darn good for a second year outfielder in his first full season in the majors. He has the power-speed combo that many fantasy owners desire on draft day and he is still young, so there's a chance he underperforms my expectations.

Well, I might be a bit pessimistic if you agree with what ESPN's Keith Law projects for him. Law published his Top 50 MLB players Age 25 years or under last week, where he wrote a short player analysis, including his projected ceiling, for each player. And he was quite optimistic on Jennings.

More on Law's ceiling for Jennings after the jump:

Law detailed Jennings 2011 season in his player analysis, stating that between AAA and the majors last season Jennings hit 22 home runs and stole 37 bases. Here is how Law ended his short report on Jennings:

He keeps his weight back well with solid hip rotation for average to above-average power to go along with his quick bat and strong plate discipline. His ability to adjust to soft stuff away was particularly impressive. He's not far from his ceiling -- a solid-average glove, OBP in the high .300s, 20-25 homers, and 30-40 steals.

"Not far from his ceiling"? and "20-25 homers and 30-40 steals"? Law did not say he would do this in 2012, but that this was his ceiling. That is better than former teammate, and now current Red Sox outfielder, Carl Crawford. Crawford has stolen 50-60 bases in the past, but never hit more than 20 home runs in any season. And I ranked Crawford in my Top 10 outfielders for 2012, so maybe I am being conservative on Jennings, as he certainly has the tools to outperform my projections.

I ranked Braves outfielder Jason Heyward as my #25 fantasy outfielder for 2012, and he is what I wrote about him in my Top 50 Fantasy Outfielders for 2012:

25. Jason Heyward, ATL-Heyward was ranked high amongst outfielder rankings heading into the 2011 season, but he disappointed from the start. I wrote about Heyward in my 2011 Bust Series awhile back here, but will be writing about him in a different light for 2012 drafts. Heyward was hampered by a shoulder injury most of the season, and I am counting on him being completely healthy with my ranking here. As we approach spring training and 2012 fantasy drafts, we will know more about his health, but he has proven to be an injury risk throughout his minor league and major league career. If healthy, he could go 25-90-80-15-.290 in 2012.

In 2010, Heyward hit .277-.393-.456 with 18 HRs, 72 RBI, 83 runs and 11 stolen bases, but followed that with a horrible 2011 season. Last year, he slumped to .227-.319-.389 with 14 HRs, 42 RBI, 50 runs and 9 stolen bases. So, what will we get from him in 2012? I project a .290 BA, with 25 home runs, 90 RBI, 80 runs and 15 stolen bases in 2012, but this all assumes Heyward is healthy.

But, there was one positive to take away from Heyward's disappointing 2011 season, is he maintained a solid 11.2% walk rate, and his strikeout rate remained right around 20.5% as well. Here is what Law wrote about Heyward in his player analysis in his Top 50 age 25 or under:

His patience remained intact, and he's still a plus defender in right. But that swing change meant he wasn't driving balls, especially not fastballs, and dragged down his entire offensive line. Heyward is still very young -- just three NL qualifiers were younger in 2011 -- and if he can get his swing back to where it was at the start of 2010, he can still become an MVP candidate with high OBPs and 25-30 homers a year.

The swing change Law mentions was Heyward changing his swing due to the injured shoulder, which goes back to 2010 according to Law. The change in swing resulted in plenty of ground balls and a drop in line drives.

So, heading into 2012 fantasy drafts, who would you rather have on your roster? Jennings offers a combination of power and speed, with a solid OBP, while Heyward offers a bit more power, more RBI, some steals and a slightly better batting average. Jennings is the guy coming off a solid performance after his call up to the big leagues, while Heyward is coming off a disappointing 2011 season, but has the potential to be one of the better young hitters in all of baseball.