Dipoto: Kelenic impressing, but Mariners plan to ‘move slowly’ on his debut
When the Mariners started their summer camp last week ahead of the shortened 60-game MLB season, one of the players who was bound to receive the most attention was outfielder Jarred Kelenic.
Kelenic, 20, is the team’s top prospect and the No. 11 prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline. The No. 6 pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, Kelenic came to the Mariners ahead of the 2019 season in a trade with the New York Mets. He quickly assumed the role of the team’s top prospect and impressed in his first full season as a pro, hitting .291 with a .364 on base percentage and a .540 slugging percentage to go along with 23 home runs, 68 RBIs and also stealing 20 bases.
Kelenic is one of many Seattle prospects who is part of the team’s 60-player pool and he will likely open the 2020 season on the Mariners’ taxi squad and is eligible to join the major league team this year.
The talented left-handed hitter turned heads the other day when, during a simulated game, he hit a very loud home run off of pitching prospect Ljay Newsome. Seattle Times reporter Ryan Divish received a video of Kelenic hitting the home run, which he posted on his Twitter account. As of Thursday morning, the video has been viewed nearly 450,000 times.
Danny O’Neil of 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny and Gallant marveled at the home run, and noted he could listen to that sound all day when he and Paul Gallant spoke to Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto. Dipoto, as you’d expect, loved what he saw from the team’s top prospect.
“And we get to hear it a couple times a day,” he said. “… He hit that ball off the Hit It Here Cafe (in right field of T-Mobile Park) in a simulated game against Ljay Newsome and it was one of those where as soon as he hit it your jaws just drop with the sound and obviously how far it went.”
Playing in an empty stadium causes the hardest-hit balls to draw perhaps even more attention than normal, Dipoto said, as was the case with Kelenic’s long ball.
“The empty stadium does create an echo with the big bangs off the bat and it’s one of those if you’re not looking, you snap your head around like ‘Who hit that?'” he said. “And it’s just fun when you have as much young talent as we have running around out there and you get to see something fun and loud and athletic every day. It’s been a real joy.”
With starting right fielder Mitch Haniger beginning the season on the injured list and there being a chance that he won’t play at all, the door for Kelenic joining the team at some point in 2020 seems more and more likely, especially as he turns heads in practices like he did with that home run. But with just 60 games and no minor league season, it’s not a sure thing that the Mariners do indeed call up Kelenic this year, Dipoto said.
“The idea is big discipline. And I said yesterday in a meeting with the media, it’s the big discipline and the development of our young players and with our plan,” he said. “And sometimes I understand I have to protect us against me because our desire is to be aggressive and to move our players as aggressively as we can, but we do have to remember that we’re playing in an unusually truncated season where there’s a lot of circumstance around us that is out of anybody’s control.”
With that truncated season, Kelenic and other prospects on the verge of a big league debut have missed a large number of games they would have played in in the minors. That may push back their expected debuts.
“We have a lot of young players – and Jarred happens to be one of them and I would say (Seattle’s No. 3 prospect, pitcher) Logan Gilbert and perhaps (Seattle’s No. 8 prospect, catcher) Cal Raleigh – who we felt had a real chance to be in the big leagues under normal progression right about now. Somewhere between right about now and September of 2020,” Dipoto said. “And the prerequisite of that is they played half a season at whatever level they were going to experience in the minor leagues and continue the repetitions and the maturation associated with that development.”
Even with those three in particular slated to start 2020 on the Mariners’ taxi squad and Dipoto saying one, two, or even all three of them could play in the majors, he and his staff need to be cautious about pulling the trigger too soon.
“While it’s still possible that each of those three can play in the big leagues this year, you feel committed to the idea that we don’t want to guess based on two weeks of a short spring training,” he said. “We’d prefer to move slowly and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Listen to Dipoto’s full conversation with Danny and Gallant at this link or in the player below.