Drayer: Have the Mariners opened the door on a Kelenic debut this year?
Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto’s weekly interview on 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny and Gallant was full of all sorts of interesting nuggets Thursday.
Related story: Dipoto on Kyle Lewis, updates on Kelenic and Rodríguez
The Mariners general manager gave the news that top prospect Julio Rodríguez would have the cast on his left wrist removed on Tuesday, that another top prospect (George Kirby) was hitting upper 90s in his sim sessions this week at the alternate site in Tacoma, and that Jarred Kelenic’s arrival in Seattle remains to be seen, but is inevitable, whether it’s late this year or early next.
Wait, what? Did Dipoto just open the door to bringing Kelenic up this season? Is there gold at the end of the roller coaster of a rainbow that is the 2020 season?
An enticing thought, but I wouldn’t get too excited about the possibility. Dipoto also said that the organization remained committed to the idea of not rushing him faster than is reasonable. What exactly does this mean?
You need not look any further than last season for answers. Kelenic played all of 50 games at Low-A ball before getting promoted to High-A Modesto. He went just 2 for 25 in his first seven games with the Nuts before breaking out with an 18-game hitting streak where he hit .444 with an OPS of 1.347.
While the Mariners perhaps would have liked to have seen a period of struggle that gave him the opportunity to get out of it at the lower level, that simply didn’t happen. Fifty games at any level is a short stay but Dipoto had no problem moving him on to Double-A Arkansas.
Fast? Yes. Within reason? Absolutely. The point is, they didn’t sit on him. They let him move up with the hope that he could get that experience, an experience that they deem as vital to hitter development, at the next level.
Here’s the kicker. There wasn’t enough time for Kelenic, who hit .253/.315/.542 in 21 games with Arkansas, to get that experience. He saw better pitching and did reasonably well, but he still hadn’t been challenged to the point where he had to work his way out of a struggle. This is one of the reasons why when he reported to spring training in Peoria, Ariz., in February, he had absolutely no chance of making the big league roster.
At the worst, he had a very good chance of being a September call-up. It was far from out of the question that we would have seen him mid-summer in Seattle. Now, without actual games to be played, it’s hard to see how that timeline could be rushed.
A couple of things worth pointing out. Should the Mariners call Kelenic up this season and he were never to return to the minors, he would become a free agent after the 2025 season. If the Mariners call him up after a few weeks in 2021, they would control his rights through the 2027 season. This should be an absolute no-brainer for the club, and to be clear, with just 21 games above A-ball, I don’t think you could scream service time manipulation. I think you could actually still argue they moved him quickly.
Also worth noting, we saw this spring what we often see with young prospects in big league camp. Kelenic started off strong at the plate and then saw his numbers fall off as starting pitchers got stretched out. We saw the same thing in Summer Camp. For all of the excitement for what we have seen him do this year, we have yet to see him face a big league pitcher in regular season form – and that is not to discount his talent in any way, shape or form. There is no question the talent is there, which makes it that much more imperative that the Mariners take care of that talent and bring it up right.
As much as fans would like to see him – and that interest and passion is a very good thing – that should never dictate player moves. Before the pandemic, the Mariners had a plan for Kelenic, one that they have already proved to be flexible with in the move from West Virginia to Modesto. I don’t see how facing young teammates this year in Tacoma, regardless of talent, could possibly accelerate that plan, especially in a season where so much remains uncertain.