Jennings aims to pick up where he left off for Rays
Consistency at the plate the goal for center fielder, who has added some muscle
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Desmond Jennings arrived to camp looking more like a strong safety heading to the NFL Scouting Combine than the Rays' center fielder.
While Jennings has added quality weight to his 6-foot-2 frame, he won't fess up to how much he's added. Suffice it to say, he looks 15 to 20 pounds heavier.
Joe Maddon commented that Jennings "looked good," noting, "The biggest thing is you want to make sure his legs are good, so that the speed stays."
Maddon followed his comment by observing that Jennings already had "this incredible power."
"He's hit some of the longest home runs we've had," Maddon said.
Thus, Jennings finding more power is not a simple matter of adding more muscle.
"Frequency of power is different than just power," Maddon said. "For me, the greater power would be when he sees his pitch, to not foul it off or take it. Hit it fair, hard somewhere. He's capable of hitting more homers. When he puts his A hack on something, it really goes."
Jennings allowed that nothing is more frustrating than looking for his pitch, getting it and missing it.
"Because you might get it once a game," Jennings said. "It's definitely frustrating. So I'm just going to concentrate on taking a good swing on the ball and trying to have a consistent swing."
Jennings feels as though he can become more consistent this season.
"I need to hit the good pitches I get instead of popping up," Jennings said. "And I need to keep a consistent bat path. Take good swings at balls in the zone."
Jennings hit .252 with 14 home runs and 54 RBIs in 2013.
Hitting coach Derek Shelton pointed out that those numbers were pretty solid and "he was rolling pretty good until he had the finger injury." Jennings missed 12 games from Aug. 6-19 with a fractured left middle finger, and he took some time getting back up to speed as he hit just .153 in his first 18 games back.
Shelton also noted that once Jennings finally got back on track, he had a memorable September in which he hit three home runs with 13 RBIs to go with a .521 slugging percentage and a .925 OPS.
"I think with at-bats, he's going to be more consistent," Shelton said. "We forget he's a young player. One thing we saw him do last year that he did better than before was control the strike zone. And basically making sure that before two strikes he gets a pitch he can drive. And I think he did that in September as well as anybody in the game."
Jennings would like to start the 2014 season the way he ended '13.
"Then just be consistent the whole season," Jennings said. "I have times where I'm hitting the ball real well, and I have times where I feel like I can't even see it. I just want to be consistent and hit the ball well all year. Get on base and steal some bags."
Jennings had just 20 stolen bases in 2013, a seemingly low number for a player with his speed. He got thrown out six times while attempting to steal.
"We didn't hold him back," Maddon said. "I really think that there was a time there when he wasn't doing so well getting on base. I think basestealers in general, obviously if you have a good batting average, a high on-base percentage, you're getting on base a lot. And when you do that, you have a tendency to take more risks or chances and become more successful.
"I think when you are struggling a bit and don't get out there as often, you take less chances and sometimes make more mistakes. I just think that's the nature of basestealing. I think by the end of the season, his on-base started coming back up."
Maddon believes that as Jennings begins to get on base more often, he'll find more consistency stealing bases.
"Because he's normally really good at that," Maddon said.
Jennings agreed with his manager's assessment.
"It's just like hitting," Jennings said. "The better you start hitting, the more confidence you get hitting. It's just like pitching and everything else. The more you get on base, the more comfortable you feel. The more times you run, the easier it gets and the more comfortable you feel running."
If Jennings remains healthy this season, he could pave the way for a significant improvement by the Rays' offense.
"I feel good. I mean, I always feel good coming into Spring Training," Jennings said. "Obviously, I had time off, so I feel great right now from top to bottom."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.