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Mariners OF prospect Jarred Kelenic
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Dipoto: Mariners ‘open-minded’ about Jarred Kelenic’s debut but lean towards conservative approach

Mariners OF Jarred Kelenic hit his first home run of the spring on Wednesday. (Getty)

What happens with top Mariners prospect Jarred Kelenic in terms of where he starts the 2021 season remains to be seen, but he’s certainly putting more pressure on Seattle to put him on the opening day roster.

Related: Jarred Kelenic’s loud day includes 1st HR of spring

Kelenic, 21, recorded a hard hit in his first at-bat of spring training last Sunday, and during Wednesday’s game against the Cubs, Kelenic hit a home run to left-center field. That happened while manager Scott Servais was, naturally, being asked about how they know a prospect is ready for his call-up to the big leagues.

“Players will let you know when they’re ready,” Servais told the ESPN TV crew, with Kelenic’s swing coming right as Servais said “let you now,” making the timing essentially perfect.

General manager Jerry Dipoto liked what he saw from Kelenic, and he discussed the outfield prospect’s eventual MLB debut and much more during the weekly Jerry Dipoto Show on Thursday morning with 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny and Gallant.

Dipoto told the show that Kelenic “looks physically stronger” this year, which likely helped with that home run.

“You can tell he went (into the offseason) and really went after it in the weight room this winter,” Dipoto said, saying Kelenic and fellow top prospect Julio RodrĂ­guez has stood out in camp, which is a testament to their talent given how young they are.

Kelenic has been in the spotlight in the wake of former Mariners president/CEO Kevin Mather’s comments that resulted in his resignation. Mather told a local rotary club that Kelenic declined a long-term contract and that he will start 2021 in the minors for a few weeks before being recalled. That’s been seen as an admission of service time manipulation.

Kelenic and his agent went public shortly after Mather’s comments, telling USA Today that Kelenic did indeed turn down a contract offer and that he was told repeatedly last year that had he accepted, he would have been on the MLB roster already.

Last week, Dipoto said a contract had been offered, but it came with a “clear understanding” that he would still be a minor leaguer to start 2021.

Now, Kelenic, who has just 21 games of experience in Double-A ball, is trying to show he’s worthy of an opening day roster spot. Dipoto said the Mariners will allow Kelenic to prove he’s ready, but the organization has to be cognizant of Kelenic’s lack of experience at the higher levels of Minor League Baseball.

“We’re always going to be open-minded to different outcomes, but we come into it understanding the reality of his experiences to date,” Dipoto said. “The smartest thing we can do is be conservative in how we move players along to make sure they’re prepared. The goal with any player in development is to make sure that when they go to the major leagues that they’re prepared for that opportunity.”

Dipoto noted that few top prospects “hit the ground running” at the MLB level, and that the Mariners want to make sure Kelenic and other prospects are ready to handle the full grind of a major league season.

“We want to make sure our players are prepared for that physically, mentally, emotionally and (are) ready for those challenges because the big leagues will challenge you,” he said. “When we feel it’s the appropriate time, we’ll promote those players.”

Dipoto also pointed to the Mariners’ roster as an example that they aren’t afraid to be aggressive with promotions. Kyle Lewis, Evan White and Justin Dunn are all examples of players who debuted by bypassing Triple-A, coming straight up from Double-A. Kelenic is in a slightly similar situation as he’s yet to play above Double-A, but Lewis, White and Dunn all had far more experience in the minors and had the benefit of being drafted out of college. Kelenic has just 92 Double-A plate appearances and was drafted out of high school in 2018.

“Each player has his own timeline, and we’re going to make sure to follow the timeline as we see fit. And we’ve discussed it very, very clearly with all our players and we’re going to continue to do that,” Dipoto said.

Given Mather’s comments, the Mariners have been put under a microscope of sorts as we all watch and see what they do with Kelenic. Dipoto said it’s unfortunate that the situation has played out in such an ugly public manner because of how it paints the organization in a bad light.

“I know, unfortunately, over these last 10 days or so there’s been a narrative created for us, but the (actual) narrative for us is we’re making progress,” he said. “And internally, we view this as a really talented, young group of players and I’d really like to get away from the idea that our theme is we’re holding players back. That’s not at all the case. We’re moving players forward in a responsible way.”

Plans for the alternate site

Initially, if Kelenic didn’t start 2021 as a big leaguer, he would have likely began the year in Triple-A Tacoma. The minor league season’s start has since been delayed by at least a month, though, so while Kelenic will likely still go to Tacoma, it will be to take part in the Mariners’ alternate training site instead of as a member of the Rainiers.

There have been some reports, such as this one from Lindsey Adler of The Athletic, that teams may be able to stage exhibitions and scrimmages between alternate sites. Dipoto said that the Mariners “have some ideas for how we might be able to solve that or remedy the situation,” when it comes to missing out on minor league games as the MLB season begins in April.

“We are confident that the Triple-A season will start, albeit in a delayed fashion, so we will have an alternate site set up for a period of time,” Dipoto said, “but we don’t feel like that’s going to be terribly long into the season, and we will get back to travel and competition as health and public safety allow. But for us, the big thing is trying to create a better plan than the one we had as a league last summer … We have a few ideas that we’ve shared with teams (in Arizona) and I think we have a few conclusions lined up that may enhance our player development in a way we weren’t able to in the summer of 2020.”

Listen to The Jerry Dipoto Show at this link or in the player below.

Follow Brandon Gustafson on Twitter.

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