June 6, 2021, was a rough day in Los Angeles for Jarred Kelenic. Mired in an 0 for 39 slump, his batting average plummeting below .100, the kid needed a break. He’d never admit it, but Kelenic had completely gotten away from who he was at the plate. He was demoted to AAA-Tacoma that night, but those close to the 22-year-old Wisconsinite knew this would only stoke the embers that fuel his fire.
Seven weeks in Triple-A and a couple more weeks at the big league level and Kelenic appears to have rediscovered the swing that got him here in the first place.
Sean Smith, Founder of STiKS Academy and Kelenic’s swing coach since before he could legally drive a car, was the recipient of countless 2 a.m. phone calls.
“Did he reach out to me? Are you kidding?” Smith said. “Yeah, you could say he reached out to me.”
Smith couldn’t help but laugh through his answer. After all, he had become Kelenic’s pseudo-therapist.
Smith said the two spoke every night for weeks — months even. Home games for the Seattle Mariners generally end around 10:30 p.m. PST, well past midnight in Wisconsin. An hour or so after the final out, Smith’s phone would ring. Kelenic would send him film and would want to go over all the little nuances of his swing. He’d vent. He’d try to make sense of it. He’d try to talk his way into a successful game plan for the next day. Ultimately, Smith says, Kelenic just needed a breather.
“He was just a fish out of water,” Smith said. “I’m thankful he struggled, and I think he’s going to be thankful he struggled too. He was pressing. It all humbled him a bit. You could tell just speaking to him.”
Kelenic has alluded to as much since being recalled to the big league club.
“When he went down to Tacoma, he slowed things down,” Smith said. “Jarred really began to understand and appreciate what he had up there.”
It wasn’t just a mental approach though. Kelenic was still uncomfortable in the box. Sure, he spent seven weeks in Tacoma and beat up Triple-A pitching, but his swing still wasn’t conducive to succeeding at the big league level. He was rigid at the plate. His head would get cockeyed. The crouch that had morphed its way into his setup was stopping him from seeing the baseball the way he was accustomed to. Much like a golfer with a bad hitch in their swing, Kelenic couldn’t feel the flaw, but he could see it every day on film.
“It wasn’t Jarred,” Smith said. “If he wasn’t blowing out his front side, he couldn’t get to most pitches.”
Here’s a good example of that front hip flaring out and Kelenic blocking himself out of reaching the outside edge.
That mechanical breakdown in Kelenic’s swing inhibited his ability to cover the whole zone, specifically on breaking balls and off-speed pitches on the outer-third of the plate. The crouch and hand setup made catching up with velocity at the top of the zone a chore too. He was having to sellout for pitches before they were thrown. That won’t work at this level.
“What people might not understand about Jarred is he’s the ultimate student of the game,” Smith said. “He’s the most mature hitter I’ve ever come across. He’s not stubborn. He’ll listen to anyone.”
But the misconception here might be that Kelenic has somehow reinvented himself at the plate — that he has completely rebuilt his swing. That’s not the case. Smith believes it boils down to rhythm and timing with Kelenic. Posture and setup shouldn’t be an issue for too much longer.
On July 27 in pregame batting practice, it clicked. He forced his stance into a more familiar upright nature and suddenly he was seeing the baseball better. He eliminated the waggle and sway, lowered his hands back to where they’ve been in the past, got that bat angle into a healthier position, and began to look like the Jarred-of-old.
More than anything, it is the Kelenic that garnered enormous acclaim in 2019
The consistency in his setup and timing isn’t quite there yet, but it seems every time out, he’s beginning to look like his old self. His wrap is a little later than it used to be, and he’s coiling a bit later too. He’s played around with closing his stance and opening it back up, but this is a process. The tinkering never ends. The adjustments to this point are allowing his hands to work more independently. He’s shorter to the ball right now than he was earlier this season. He’s got the ability to lag and manipulate the barrel again without selling out. As he continues to get comfortable, the numbers may continue to improve. With Kelenic, it’s all about timing and he’s getting closer.
Since July 27 and his re-assimilation to the old swing, Kelenic is slashing .265/.368/.559 with three homers. He’s running an impressive 12.8 percent walk-rate and a much healthier 20.5 percent K-rate. Over this 9-game stretch, he’s posted a 148 wRC+.
“Jarred is a freak — he’s a freak athlete,” Smith said. “It won’t take long. Once he gets in rhythm, and he will, it’ll be good.”
Barely 22 years old, Kelenic is going through the paces pretty much every young player goes through. But he’s making adjustments and he’s figuring it out. All the things you assumed about Kelenic before he debuted have not changed. He’s tireless, thirsty for greatness and more than talented enough to be a star. Sometimes you just have to take your medicine first.