Watching Desmond Jennings hit two home runs in two swings yesterday had me thinking back to another athletic leftfielder’s first few years in the Majors.
When Carl Crawford showed up in Tampa Bay, we knew he could run. We also knew he was an above-average fielder. But no one knew what kind of hitter he would ultimately be. When he debuted, he had a slashing, level swing that resulted in a lot of line drives and ground balls. There were some inside and outside the organization that wanted CC to learn to handle the bat and work the count to become a premier leadoff hitter. Billy Hatcher, in particular, encouraged CC to use early BP to work on his bunting.
But Crawford refused. He aligned himself with the other camp in-and-out of the organization that projected him as a 3-hole hitter with home run power and power to the alleys. CC never became a power threat, topping out at 19 home runs in his final Tampa Bay season and putting together a career .440 slugging percentage that was partially inflated by his ability to make doubles into triples.
Which brings us full circle to Jennings, who seems to be starting the CC cycle all over again. He is an athletic former football player whose speed and athleticism opens lots of doors for him. Will he be a traditional leadoff man with a high OBP and lots of stolen bases? Will he be a traditional power hitter? Will he be something in between along the lines of Chase Utley or Rickey Henderson?
Whatever ultimately happens, I think Jennings has a more open future than Crawford ever did. Not because he is more athletic or better at baseball. But because he has a more fundamentally sound swing. In the end, Crawford was never going to hit for real power in the big leagues without modifying his swing type. But he never actually changed that swing. He just tried to hit for power while using a slasher’s hack.
Jennings, on the other hand, passes the bat through the zone more naturally and, therefore, generates power more easily. Jennings has never really hit for power but, it is not impossible to create a power stroke in the big leagues. So, I put it to you, am I being a homer and just downplaying CC because I am still a little burned over his departure or, do you see what I see in Jennings’ approach?
For the record.