SHANNON DRAYER

Drayer: Debuts of Kelenic and Gilbert mark beginning of next step for Mariners

May 13, 2021, 8:22 AM | Updated: 10:20 am
Mariners OF Jarred Kelenic...
Mariners OF Jarred Kelenic will make his highly-anticipated MLB debut Thursday in Seattle. (Getty)
(Getty)

The “What should we expect from Jarred Kelenic in his Mariners callup?” question has turned into, “What should we expect from Kelenic and Logan Gilbert in their Mariners callups Thursday?”

Report: M’s pitching prospect Logan Gilbert likely to debut Thursday

And the answer is simple. Don’t. Turn off the baseball brain and just enjoy for a day.

It’s not every day an organization brings a top prospect up to the big leagues, let alone two.

Had this just been Kelenic, you might compare it to the day Félix Hernández made his debut. Unfortunately, that game was on the road in Detroit and not televised.

While due to Covid restrictions the crowd at T-Mobile Park will be smaller than the 28,148 who witnessed King Felix’s ascension to the big stage Aug. 5, 2005, at Comerica Park, the attention will be far greater as the spotlight on prospects has in recent years been amplified and perhaps nowhere more in the last three years than in Seattle as Mariners fans eagerly awaited the arrival of the names and faces they have gotten to know in large part due to the organization itself promoting their up and coming youth. That day is here.

On Thursday, the No. 6 and 14 picks of the 2018 MLB June Amateur Draft, Baseball America’s No. 4 and 28 prospects, will be welcomed to the big leagues with Kelenic in the starting lineup and Gilbert on the mound.

It will mark just the third time since 2004 that two preseason top-100 prospects will debut for the same team in the same game according to research by MLB Manager of Baseball Research & Development Jason Bernard.

Kelenic and Gilbert are two foundational players who will take the next step and begin the journey of turning into the big leaguers the Mariners are in large part banking on when it comes to future – sustainable success.

Kelenic, the one that initially got away. He dazzled as a high schooler in a pre-draft workout on a Saturday morning at the then-Safeco Field, prompting Scott Servais, a former farm director, to say after that he had just witnessed the best hitting display in such a workout he had ever seen before noting there was little chance that Kelenic would fall to No. 14 where the Mariners were drafting.

While they missed out on Kelenic, the Mariners were thrilled to have the opportunity to take another player Director of Amateur Scouting Scott Hunter did not believe they would have a shot at in Gilbert.

The 6-foot-6 righty out of Stetson University, the school that produced Cy Young winners Corey Kluber and Jacob deGrom, was high on the Mariners draft board as a polished “C the Z” strikeout artist who sat 94-95 mph and room for growth.

Since draft day 2018, Kelenic became a Mariner as part of the trade that sent Robinson Canó and Edwin Díaz to the New York Mets, and Gilbert has shown that growth, improving his secondary pitches and putting up impressive numbers in 2019, his one full minor league season. In 2019, Gilbert finished with an ERA of 2.13 with 165 strikeouts and just 33 walks in 135 innings pitched.

Both made their big league spring training debuts in 2020 with Kelenic fading quickly after a hot five-game start and Gilbert showing nerves in his one big league outing. The story in 2021 was very different for both with Kelenic more than holding his own until an adductor muscle strain sidelined him and Gilbert giving a tantalizing glimpse against the Angels in Tempe, where he struck out four including Mike Trout, David Fletcher and Dexter Fowler.

Intensely competitive with the potential to be incredibly intimidating on the mound with his large frame and enormous wingspan, off the field Gilbert is more laid back. The business systems and analytics major is invested in baseball analytics as well, sparked years ago by the movie “Moneyball.”

With Kelenic, the personality you see on the field is on full display outside the lines too. Unapologetically confident and sometimes entertainingly brash, he understands and embraces “team,” something that was recognized by his future big league teammates this spring.

Both players share incredible drive and worth ethic which has also been acknowledged by those around them.

Unlike most young players, the duo has spent significant time on the field at T-Mobile Park as COVID forced a second spring training or more accurately, “Summer Camp” to be held a the ballpark last summer. Thursday, however, they will take the field in game jerseys and have their first opportunity to help the Mariners win a ballgame that counts. It is something that Kelenic has talked about passionately.

“All I want to do is help the team win and go to the World Series and cover my hand in rings,” he said this spring. “That’s what I want. Not only for me, but I want to do it with those guys in there and the fans in general because they haven’t been there since I was born. They haven’t been able to experience playoff baseball for so long. I’m a fan of the game too. I get it. I want, just like every guy in that clubhouse, we want to bring a title to Seattle.”

On Thursday, Kelenic and Gilbert will get their first chance to help advance that goal.

The Mariners have a long way to go but at the same time a long road behind them in getting these two players to the big leagues.

There will be more that follow, but these two in particular mark the opening of a door that, if all goes according to plan, will lead to much better things for Mariners fans.

Follow Shannon Drayer on Twitter.

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