Desmond Jennings Released
The Rays rather unceremoniously, if not harshly, dumped Desmond Jennings over the weekend. The move in and of itself was not surprising, but it also is yet another reminder of a large organizational problem.
Jennings was ranked in the top 80 by Baseball America each year from 2008 through 2011. They ranked him 59th in 2008 after a .315/.401/.465 campaign in the South Atlantic League but dropped to 80th after playing in just 24 games in the Florida State League in 2008. He vaulted up to 6th overall on BA’s list prior to the 2010 season after his .318/.401/.487 line his only injury-free season in the minors between Montgomery and Durham. Jennings spent all but a handful of games back in Durham in 2010 and was ranked as the 22nd best prospect by BA before the 2011 season in which he finally lost his rookie eligibility. The folks at BaseballProspectus (led by Kevin Goldstein & then Jason Parks) ranked Jennings, 18th, 49th, 7th, and 18th in that same four-year span.
Jennings spent the last seven seasons with the Rays and finished with a .245/.322/.393 line over 2351 plate appearances and was worth 13.1 wins above replacement. He never quite lived up to the hype offensively that followed him up through the minors although he cam close during his 2011 rookie season. Offensively, righties, particularly those with at least average velocity, were a struggle for him but not as much as his health was. Jennings has yet to play as many as 140 games in any season and has played at least 100 games just once in the last three seasons. He was never a fan of playing on the synthetic surface at Tropicana Field and told Roger Mooney of the (RIP) Tampa Tribune that it (the turf) “kills you.” One certainly cannot rule out the effects of The Turf wearing down on an outfielder that is moving so much gap to gap. Perhaps a new home with grass will help him get his lower half healthy and help him rediscover his talents.
In the end, Jennings was the highest non-Longoria hitting prospect the system has produced in recent years and for all intents and purposes, he is a bust. As we look out across the 40-man roster, there is a clear lack of home-grown offensive players in the system outside of the face of the franchise and this is very problematic for a team that balls on a budget as pitching and defense can only win so many games. The franchise has had 10 different players that has accumulated at least 10 offensive wins above replacement.
That is a rather short list. Even more concerning is the fact that the next homegrown player who has a crack at that group is Kevin Kiermaier and his offensive abilities lag way behind his excellence in the field. Perhaps Willy Adames or Jake Bauers can end the dry spell of homegrown offensive products, but the organization’s track record is certainly working against them.