Rays' Desmond Jennings Chose Wisely With Baseball





ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — Had Plan A worked out for Desmond Jennings, he would have been celebrating a national college football championship in January with his Alabama teammates.

Instead, he was immersed in his off-season baseball workouts, then joining other top Tampa Bay prospects for a development program at Tropicana Field before heading to spring training in Port Charlotte, Fla..

And things may work out even better.

Since giving up football for baseball, Jennings, 23, has emerged as one of the game's top overall prospects and appears likely to make his major league debut at some point this season.

The hype has been building rapidly, as Jennings was named the Rays minor league player of the year after hitting .318/.401/.487 between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham, then landed in the top six of a couple national top prospect rankings.

But you can't tell by his approach.

"I don't really want to be in the limelight,'' he said. "I just want to go out there and play baseball and have fun while I'm there.''

Jennings will participate in major league camp for the first time, and with the Rays right field position somewhat unsettled (they're talking about some combination of Ben Zobrist, Matt Joyce and Gabe Kapler), there is some speculation Jennings could play his way into the conversation, if not the lineup.

"I'm going in to try to win a spot,'' he said. "It's probably not going to happen, but I'm going to try to make it happen. I'm just going to make the most of my opportunity.''

COOL RAYS

• Lefthander Stepan Havlicek, a 16-year-old from the Czech Republic, became the first player signed out of Europe by the Rays, who made an effort to increase their international presence.

• Righthander Matt Bush, the 2004 top overall pick whose career has been sidelined because of on- and off-field issues, was signed to a minor-league contract.