On a recent broadcast of the Minor League Notebook Weekly radio show, host Tyler Hissey interviewed Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus. They discussed several Rays players including Desmond Jennings, David Price, Jason Hammel, Tim Beckham, and Reid Brignac.
Tyler was kind enough to type up a transcript of the Rays-related portion of the show and send it to me. Here is Part 1 of 4, focusing on Desmond Jennings (TH = Tyler Hissey, KG = Kevin Goldstein):
TH: How high are you on Desmond Jennings?
KG: I am very high on Desmond Jennings. The tools are incredible. It says something when you thing about a league like the Arizona Fall League, which is just filled with studs, and you talk to a scout who says "Jennings stood out like a sore thumb" on a tools level. That says a lot. If you can stand out in the Arizona Fall League on your athleticism, you're a pretty special athlete. And that's what he is.
Again, there are a lot of fantastic athletes in baseball, but the fact that he has some idea at the plate, and has some presence there, and has some plate discipline and understanding of the strike zone, gives him a huge advantage over the other kind of high-risk, high-ceiling athlete types. I think it's one thing that really differentiates him from other prospects. He has a little bit of pop, tremendous speed, and plays a good center field.
He is coming off just a nightmare season, where like every three seconds he got injured in a different kind of way. They're just going to do a rewind, starting him in the Florida State League, and then kind of taking things from there. He remains one of the higher-ceiling center fielders in the game.
TH: Will Carroll says that staying healthy is a skill. Do you think Jennings has had his share of bad luck or can be considered injury prone? Or is just way too early to tell?
KG: I think it is too early to tell. I think a lot of things can be thought of last year were a bit of bad luck. He just couldn't catch a break. And I've talked to people in the Rays organization who were as frustrated as Jennings was at times—in the sense that he came back from just a minor knee surgery at the end of 2007, and that came along a little slow. Next thing you know his shoulder hurts. Next think you know he's done something to his back. He just couldn't catch a break.
But we don't know if he's injury prone yet. I actually think it's hard for hitters to be injury prone. There are always position players who get injured out there, but with most of them it's their fault. A lot of that revolves around conditioning. You think about Landon Powell's history. Just non-stop injury problems. I think that revolves around the fact that he's rarely in good shape. Players who are in good shape like Jennings are rarely as much injury prone as it's a bad luck thing.
TH: Although there are a lot of unknown variables, health included, what is Jennings' ETA? And, assuming he can stay healthy and is an asset defensively in center field, could he move B.J. Upton off of the position when he's ready?
KG: It's a nice problem to have, you know. Even the Rays don't have to worry about that until they're forced to. A lot of people look at prospects when they are young and they go we have this guy here, and think about where he will be moved. The Brewers have a near-ready shortstop in Alcides Escobar, who is just silly great defensively. So now many people say they got to shift Hardy over, and figure out how to get Escobar playing everyday. Teams don't worry about that stuff until you get to the day you're forced to make a decision.
For now, he's a really good center fielder. I think his ETA is probably two, three years away. Who knows where you are down the road two, three years in the big leagues? Everything can change, and you've seen a whole lot of unpredictability with all sorts of players, so it's hard to speculate on what you do there. It's a nice problem to have, though, as far as most teams would love to have too many center fielders as opposed to not enough.