Ah, early spring. Graduation season, prom season, and most importantly, mock draft season. As we get closer to the MLB draft (June 4-6), we will keep you up on which players major media outlets are projecting to the Mariners. One giant caveat: this front office, while presenting an air of transparency, has shown a tendency to keep things very close to the vest. I still remember having to abandon my Thanksgiving pie-making halfway through in order to cover the Hanigura (TM Ben Thoen) trade. People will say things like “the Mariners have been linked to college players!” and perhaps that’s true, but it could just as easily not be true! I will say that fast-moving collegiates make sense for a system that’s been thinned by trades, although if the team feels the best player available to them is a prepster, that certainly won’t deter them.
That seems to be the tack Keith Law is taking in his most recent mock draft, released this past Thursday, in which he mocks Wisconsin HS outfielder Jarred Kelenic to the Mariners. In his writeup, Law explains that he’s heard the Mariners linked to every college player he’d already assigned to other teams save for Ole Miss lefty Ryan Rolison, who John took with the 21st overall selection when we did a mock first round back in January, and is a very solid, but perhaps not game-changing, player. Therefore, as Law explains:
This comes with a caveat: GM Jerry DiPoto [sic] has never taken a high school player with a first-round pick, not in Anaheim and not in Seattle. However, Rolison is the one college player I’ve heard linked to Seattle who isn’t going before this pick in this projection, which leaves the Mariners with a bunch of prep options, of which Kelenic is the best.
So it sort of feels like he’s assigning Kelenic to the Mariners because he’s too good to get past pick 14, but not because there’s any particular philosophical overlap between the Mariners and Kelenic. However, there might be a good fit other than “best player available.”
Kelenic’s draft trajectory has been an odd one; he first appeared on my radar last August after the Perfect Game All-American Classic. Kelenic drew a fair amount of praise then, but maybe not as much as he would have in a year that wasn’t so stacked with outstanding prep arms. Here’s what I wrote about Kelenic then (click the link for the full writeup and a .gif of him making an outstanding catch):
Kelenic is my pet of this class. He is the king of tools: he can steal bases, flashing plus speed, and he has a cannon for an arm. He can hit, with good, quick hands and a sweet left-handed swing...He’s also a genuinely nice-seeming, humble kid from Wisconsin whose sweet, affable personality really came through in his pre-game interviews. He won the “Fearless Player” award at the PG luncheon.
After a strong summer with Team USA, by January, the draft buzz was sufficient to the point where John took him tenth in our mock draft, and I considered him at seven, if not for the fact that my foolish draftmates left Nick Madrigal right there for me, like fools. Aside from his mess of physical tools, Kelenic meets the high-character component that the Mariners have been emphasizing recently. While he is technically a prep prospect, he graduated high school a semester early so he could spend the rest of his year training, and his family has been instrumental in building top-flight baseball facilities in chilly Wisconsin where he’s trained alongside the likes of J.J. Watt. Kelenic’s family has contributed so much to the development of Midwestern baseball, and his talent is such that it’s not outlandish to imagine the Tigers taking him first overall. (In fact, a group of the Tigers’ FO members led by GM Al Avila recently went to see him play.) All of this makes it curious that Law would mock him to the Mariners all the way at 14.
However, as JJ Cooper from Baseball America has written, Kelenic’s strong Midwestern roots are part blessing and part curse. The particularly punishing weather in the Midwest this year slowed down the baseball calendar, with the season not really getting underway until late April, well after the warm weather baseball hotbeds like California and Florida were already finishing their seasons. A cold start to his season may have knocked Kelenic back a little in the eyes of some scouts, already wary of picks from the Great White North:
“Kelenic had a couple of hitless games in front of significant numbers of scouts and upper-level front office types in his first games of the season.For someone like Turang, that would be a minor setback. For Kelenic, he has very little time to reinforce the notion that he’s worthy of an early first-round pick.”
I personally think Kelenic will be gone well before the Mariners pick, but if other teams are frightened off by a prep prospect from a cold-weather state—something the Mariners clearly aren’t, hello Sam Carlson—Kelenic will almost certainly be the best player available, if he’s there. I just don’t think he will be.