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40 in 25: Jarred Kelenic

I project 35 fbombWAR from Kelenic in 2022

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

We really don’t give enough credit to the moms of the world. What would we be without them (outside of half a DNA strand)? Erratic meat packages built off chaos, bouncing off life’s proverbial walls with no brakes? Moms rule. Moms keep us in check. In the case of Jarred Kelenic, without his mom, maybe we’re talking about a self-destructive, muscle-bound kettlebell of a human being, hellbent on self-sabotage. But Kelenic’s mom helped reverse the course in 2021, therapizing her son into a late-summer surge at the plate.

Mariners fans can only hope it was a sign of things to come.

Whether you want to admit it or not, much of Seattle’s future success hinges on guys like Kelenic finding sustained success. The Mariners have five or six years ahead of them where their young core won’t cost huge money. The time is now, but offseason acquisitions shouldn’t be relied upon to do the heavy lifting. Robbie Ray won’t win this team a World Series. Neither will Jesse Winker or Eugenio Saurez. Sure, they’ll help, but Kelenic, as well as Logan Gilbert, Julio Rodriguez, George Kirby, etc. etc. will need to carry the water.

It’s a story that’s seemingly been written ad nauseam. Kelenic was a mess when he arrived in April. It was an unfamiliar setup at the plate with a swing not conducive to handling big league pitching. He started slow and spiraled into oblivion, culminating in an 0 for 42 hitless streak, eventually being demoted to Tacoma to take a deep breath. Kelenic did some soul searching with the Rainiers, his mom traveling to the Puget Sound, talking him into a better headspace, refocusing perspective.

He came back in July and, we hope, the rest is history.

Kelenic slashed .248/.331/.524 with seven homers and a 135 wRC+ the last five weeks of the season. Considering how hard he hit the ball from July onward, coupled with his .254 BABIP, it’s not hard to argue he was a bit unlucky too. And his .325 wOBA would agree. Kelenic was at least an average big league hitter after the all-star break, though conventional slash lines certainly would suggest otherwise.

The hope, in case this wasn’t obvious, is that form of Kelenic takes shape for most of 2022 and beyond.

There are positive signs that suggest that will come to fruition. In the early going this spring, Kelenic looks far more athletic and comfortable in the box. He’s less mechanical and doesn’t look like he’s trying to grind the baseball bat into a toothpick before the baseball is pitched. So that’s good!

At this stage, it boils down to whether you believe in Kelenic’s physical tools and his ability to mentally compartmentalize failure this season. He’s going to go through stretches of ineptitude. Every player does. But for his sake (and for our sake, frankly), it would be spectacular if he’d limit himself to maybe just one “F-bomb” per night, rather than three or four after a single strikeout. Not trying to be harsh! Just saying… just saying… it’s an uncomfortable viewing experience. I have no problem saying the quiet parts loud. You were all thinking it...

So what is a fair expectation from the Waukesha Kid™ in 2022? His second rodeo, now familiar with what a good big league bucking feels like. I still believe in Kelenic’s pure hit tool. I still think we’re talking about a guy who can use the whole field and find himself hitting over .260 in 2022 (the elimination of the shift should further improve the hit tool ceiling in 2023). A .260/.340/.460 slash is possible here and I don’t think it’s the ceiling either. Kelenic should be a 2.0 fWAR player this season, especially if he’s thrust into left field. Don’t be surprised if it all clicks and he approaches 4-win status; a Teoscar Hernandez type.

Where Kelenic goes in 2023 and beyond is the biggest question mark in my mind. Personally, I think the “Grady Sizemore” days are behind him. Kelenic has gotten thicker and a touch stiffer in the last couple years. Not necessarily in a bad way, but his archetype has shifted from a 5-tool type to more of a slugger. The spectrum is Grady Sizemore-Jim Edmonds-Joc Pederson. For the Mariners sake, you hope he settles in closer to Edmonds; an athletic, bigger guy who can handle centerfield at an above average level with more reps and the speed to contribute value on the base paths. The Pederson route puts considerable pressure on the bat. That outcome is almost assured as Kelenic enters his free agent years, but for the time being, at his young age, you’d really like to see all the tools flash on the field.

Unfortunately, this article will be my last at Lookout Landing for the foreseeable future. Some exciting opportunities have come my way in the baseball industry in recent weeks and it is forcing me away from my affiliative commitments. While this may be the end of my time at Lookout Landing, at least as a regular feature writer, hopefully it is just the beginning for Kelenic and the youthful, new-look Mariners as a whole. What an incredible time to be a Seattle Mariners fan. You Gotta Love These Guys™.

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