IL notes: Jennings stepping up game

Fully recovered from injuries, prospect adding power to profile

Rays outfield prospect Desmond Jennings leads the IL with 42 runs scored. (Carl Kline/MiLB.com)

By John Wagner / Special to MLB.com | June 6, 2011 6:00 AM

Durham manager Charlie Montoyo said there's one difference -- one big difference -- between the Desmond Jennings he managed last year and this year's model.

"He's healthy," Montoyo said of Jennings, one of the top prospects in Tampa Bay's organization. "Last year he battled through a shoulder injury. This year he's healthy and he looks a lot better.

"This year he can get to the inside corner better. His power numbers are better because he can get the bat through the [strike] zone better."

Through his first 54 games this season the 6-foot-2, 200-pound outfielder already has eight home runs, almost tripling the total of three he had in 109 games for the Bulls last year. His .454 slugging percentage is a big step up from his .393 mark of a season ago.

"I've been more aggressive towards the ball," Jennings said of the difference between the two seasons. "Last year I was tentative in swinging at some pitches, but now I'm feeling good about letting it go and taking an aggressive swing.

"Last year I was just trying to put it in play. Now I'm trying to drive the ball and get some things going."

Meanwhile Jennings' speed and defense, which have been trademarks of his play since he was selected in the 10th round of the 2006 First Year Player Draft, still are in evidence. Jennings already has two triples and has stolen 10 bases while being caught just once, and he leads the International League with 42 runs scored.

"He's probably one of the best defensive outfielders in this league," Montoyo said. "He glides to the ball."

Even though Tampa Bay signed veteran outfielders such as Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez this past offseason instead of creating an opportunity for Jennings in the Major Leagues, the Rays' Minor League Player of the Year in 2009 understands why he has returned to Durham. "I didn't play well in spring," he admitted. "I don't know if signing those other guys had anything to do with it, but I didn't have a good spring -- and that's the reason I'm here."

If Jennings was disappointed when he returned to the Bulls for a second season, Montoyo said he hasn't shown it.

"Desmond is one of those guys who can never tell if he went 0-for-4 or 4-for-4," Montoyo said. "He's an even-keeled kind of kid.

"I would think he was disappointed when he didn't make the [Major League] club, but he knows he's got to wait for his chance. But he also knows he's going to get a chance."

In brief

Just for starters: Lehigh Valley's Brian Gordon has made an impressive transition from the field to the mound. Originally drafted as an outfielder in 1997, Gordon became a pitcher in 2007 and had a three-game cup of coffee with Texas in '08. This season the IronPigs converted him to a starter on April 29, and Gordon has excelled in his new role. In seven starts the 32-year-old right-hander is 4-0 with a 0.93 ERA. He has 33 strikeouts and just four walks in 38 2/3 innings, having given up just 24 hits and six runs, four of which were earned.

May Day: The IL leaders for the month of May included Louisville's Jeremy Hermida and his .359 batting average; Jorge Vazquez of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, who hit nine home runs; Cord Phelps of Columbus with 28 RBIs; Russ Canzler of Durham with 24 runs scored; Durham's Alex Cobb and his 0.36 ERA; Kyle Gibson of Rochester, who had 38 strikeouts; and Tim Wood of Indianapolis and Mike Zagurski of Lehigh Valley, both of whom had eight saves. Three pitchers -- Brian Baker of Durham, Brad Lincoln of Indianapolis and Syracuse's Craig Stammen -- each had four wins for the month.

Wear it with pride: Norfolk's Brandon Snyder wears No. 29 on his uniform, and he has dog tags with No. 29 tattooed on his arm. It's in honor of his grandfather, Roger Snyder, who served in the 29th Infantry during World War II. "It's another way to remind me that [my grandfather] is with me all the time and to show my appreciation for our armed forces," Snyder told the Virginian-Pilot. "Whether I have a bad game or not, it reminds me there are people out there serving our country and who are having a lot worse days."

He said it: "I got pretty tired running the bases, but it was good to come away with a win." -- Indianapolis RHP Brad Lincoln to the Indianapolis Star on June 3. Lincoln had a triple and a double in two at-bats against Syracuse that night to score a run, and he allowed just one run on six hits over seven strong innings to pitch the Indians to a 3-1 victory.

John Wagner is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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