Jarred Kelenic’s career thus far has often developed in a spotlight cast down from the tip of the Space Needle, a totem representing the future and promise for Seattle. The Mariners took the tact of focusing some marketing efforts toward their prospects this year and last rather than highlight the team’s current roster construction, an active decision to shoulder more pressure on “Seattle’s chosen one.” Kelenic has been the subject of breathless debates over his prodigious talent, immediate big league capabilities, his overconfidence and all-business attitude. So what happens if it doesn’t immediately click?
Kelenic is a doo-swoop, powder-keg package equipped with a laboratory beaker-built jawline, genetically engineered to accept nothing but what is impossible. His smiles and elation are saved for Everest-sized conquests. He eats doubles down the line for breakfast, nothing more than another foundational block in his grand pyramid of expectation. The 6th overall pick of the 2018 draft, Kelenic was named MLB Pipeline’s 4th overall prospect this preseason, besting fellow city-savior Julio Rodriguez by one spot. He’s knocking at the door of T-Mobile Park. With so much expectation for both himself and from fans, what is fair to expect?
It’s never easy. Baseball is hard. But to date, Kelenic has made the sport look rather rudimentary. His longest slump: a two-week sunburn in June of 2019 adjusting to life in Modesto, California at High-A. Since July 1, 2019, Kelenic is slashing .303 with 10 homers in 49 games across two levels.
It’s safe to assume Kelenic will see Seattle in May, June at the very latest. He’ll immediately slot in as the Mariners starting left fielder and all eyes will be on the pride of Waukesha to immediately infuse juice into what has been an anemic lineup.
Looking back at some other outfielders ranked inside the top five prospects of previous MLB Pipeline lists, Mariners fans should be excited. But an exercise in patience is necessary.
Mike Trout was the best prospect on the planet in 2011. A small town, cold weather kid who kept his head down and played ball, Trout hit .220 with 5 homers in 40 games his rookie season, good for an OPS+ of just 89. The rest is history.
Bryce Harper has been “the chosen one” since he was 15 years old. His rookie campaign with the Nationals, Harper hit .270 with 22 homers, registering a 118 OPS+. Harper has never posted an OPS+ under 110 and has more seasons with an OPS+ over 130 than not.
The 2012 no. 3 overall prospect, Wil Myers burst onto the scene for the Tampa Bay Rays, hitting .293 with an OPS+ of 131. He has since settled in with a career OPS+ of 109.
Byron Buxton, the no. 1 overall prospect in 2013, has had a slow burn to this point, flashing nuclear moments of superstardom in between injuries, the most recent of that being this season. His first four years in the league, Buxton registered a cumulative 80 OPS+.
The list goes on and on. Andrew Benintendi, Victor Robles, Eloy Jimenez, Ronald Acuña, they’ve all had various degrees of success.
Most evaluators believe one thing is assured with Kelenic. The bat is real. It’s a loud, impact stick that projects into the middle of the Mariners order for years to come. You’ll find varying opinions on where the body best fits in the field, and how much value he’ll have on the base paths as he ages, but by and large, the most important tool, the bat, is special.
I think it’s a fair Vegas bet to project Kelenic an immediate contributor with the bat in 2021. The approach, coupled with the balance and bat speed should make for a run-producer straight out of the gates. I have a hard time seeing anything less than a 100 OPS+ in 2021. That said, there are pitfalls Kelenic will need to avoid should he hope to reach his holy ceiling.
The aforementioned track record of success has done nothing but build on the confidence Kelenic has in his pre-constructed self-assertion on the diamond. It’s important he recognize he’s at the doorstep to a party with the best athletes in the world. Come in, have a beer, eat some chips... don’t grab the keg and immediately challenge Gerrit Cole to a chugging contest.
Kelenic being introduced to the mental hurdles of failure in 2021 might be a new feeling. But it’s a feeling he’ll need to digest and compartmentalize. You’re only as good as your next at-bat. Snowballing is easy when you hold yourself to such great heights.
Kelenic hasn’t been shy about the fact he believes he could help this team win, and win right now. And he’s not wrong. But the big leagues rely on the team game more than any other level. Moving the runner over, hitting the cut-off man, putting the ball in play, the greats do the little things with regularity. Kelenic will need to do the same.
Long story short, so long as Kelenic doesn’t come up expecting to get onto the SportsCenter Top Ten every night, he’s going to flourish. The Mariners will continue to lose some games, and that will be no fault of his own. One day at a time. Kelenic can’t do it all by himself.
The Soft Tissue
Spring Training 2019 was a sight to behold. Kelenic made a diving catch in left-centerfield and scraped up his arm pretty good. Sparks flickered, blue fluid began to drain and wires were strewn about the divots his body dug up.
Kelenic is built different than just about any other athlete in the league. His physique is fully-maximized. The muscle-fibers are dense and wound tight. He’s built like a pit bull with the explosiveness to boot. It’ll be important Kelenic take his pre-game stretching routine very serious. He’s so thick, it’s impossible to pretend the stresses put on lower body on an every day basis won’t be something to monitor.
Let’s be honest, Kelenic has one of the biggest ceilings in Seattle Mariners history. He’s far, far more tooled-up than the likes of Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero. He provides value across the board, and holds himself to a standard unseen around these parts in a long time. The future is at the door. Time to let him in.