What Do We Do With Desmond Jennings?

"Am I really about to lose ABs to Johnny Damon?"

Perhaps Rays GM Andrew Friedman (Jewish much?) is trying to save me from wasting a roster spot in 2011. With the signing of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez last week, it appears that the departure of Carl Crawford might not free up playing time for Desmond Jennings as many of us hoped.

It’s a safe bet that Manny Ramirez, when he actually sees the field, will spend much of of his time as the DH. Any games he sees in LF will most likely be against left-handed starters during interleague play. But Johnny Damon is still capable of running down a fly ball in left. Throw in newly acquired Brandon Guyer and Sam Fuld, as well as Matt Joyce, and the outfield gets a bit more crowded.

Fuld is hardly an everyday player at the MLB level and Guyer might spend most of 2011 in the minors. Neither is hardly the prospect of Jennings’s caliber. Joyce is looking at a DH platoon split with Manny but is more than capable in the OF to steal ABs away from Jennings when a right handed starter is on the mound.

Desmond Jennings scuffled a bit in AAA last season. He didn’t light up the world during his September call-up either, though he only received 24 PA. Not much to base a hypothesis. Much of his minor league struggles in 2010 were attributed to an early wrist injury that required a splint. Wrist injuries usually effect power production so that may explain Jennings’s regression in HRs.

Is Jennings the most talented option for the Rays in left field? Absolutely. But with the signing of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez it appears the Rays aren’t completely sure about giving Jennings the starting gig right away. Friedman and the rest of the Rays’ front office might be a bit wary of how Jennings played last season and would prefer to ease him into the lineup using Johnny Damon as training wheels.

Jennings has a solid K/BB ratio and one would think he could sustain a good average in 2011 against MLB caliber pitching. I’d say his home run ceiling in 2011 is 10 bombs. His career high in the minors is 11 and he only hit three last year.

The real question here is whether or not he will see the field enough to steal 40+ bases. Speaking as a guy who has to make a keeper decision on Jennings, I’d love to see him win the starting job out of spring training. If he has a poor spring he may even start the year in the minors (which blows). With enough stop gaps in LF the Rays can afford to keep him in AAA at least through April just to get him regular ABs.

Damon and the others are obviously not the future but they are the present. They could steal enough ABs away from Jennings to make him a non-factor in fantasy for 2011.

The ceiling for Jennings is probably enough to hold onto in 2011. If he plays up to potential his profile projects as Jacoby Ellsbury-esque. Only 15 rounds later.

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