From young minor league prospects to rookie big-league talent, Prospect Press will be providing an inside look at baseball's best talent for years to come. Today's Prospect Press focuses on Tampa Bay Rays prospect Desmond Jennings.
Two weeks ago, we gave you four highly-touted hitting prospects whose presence could affect the second half of the regular season. One of those names was 24-year outfielder Desmond Jennings, regarded by Baseball America as the top hitting prospect in the Tampa Bay organization.
Jennings received a brief cup of coffee in the big leagues last September, when the Rays promoted him from Triple-A Durham. Despite two consecutive highly-productive seasons at Triple-A, Jennings was sent back to Durham at the start of the 2011 season in order to continue receiving playing time on an everyday basis. In 89 games this season, Jennings has continued to refine his approach, putting together a .275/.374/.356 triple-slash line. Those numbers include a career-high 12 home runs in addition to 17 stolen bases in 18 attempts.
For the past two years, mercurial center fielder B.J. Upton has blocked Jennings' entry into the Tropicana Field outfield. Still just 26 years old, Upton has put up impressive power numbers in 2011 (15 HR, 52 RBI) at the expense of his average (.232). He is making $4.83 million this season for the Rays and will be arbitration eligible for the final time in the offseason.
Late this afternoon, however, Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com and Buster Olney of ESPN.com both confirmed that Upton will be dealt out of Tampa before next Sunday's trade deadline. The Rays have fallen off the pace in the AL East, where the Red Sox and Yankees are looking to turn the division into a two-horse race. Last night, both Upton and Jennings were removed from their respective games, with Upton denying all trade speculation following the game.
Jennings' playing time and fantasy value will be determined within the next week. Assuming Upton is in fact traded, Jennings joins an already-solid lineup and will be a beneficiary of manager Joe Maddon's aggressive baserunning style. Additionally, his increased power numbers offer reason to believe he can be a consistent 15-20 home run player. The Rays have never been afraid to allow their prospects to prove themselves on a full-time basis, and the imminent departure of Upton means a changing of the guard in center at Tropicana Field.