ESPN’s Jeff Passan: Mariners on the right track with Jarred Kelenic as cornerstone
It’s been over a week since we learned that top Mariners prospect Jarred Kelenic would be making his MLB debut, and it’s been nearly a week since that debut took place in a 4-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians.
While Kelenic has had his big moments, namely going 3 for 4 with a home run and two doubles in his second career MLB game, he’s looked like a rookie at times as well. Entering Saturday, Kelenic is slashing .161/.235/.323 in eight career games.
That’s obviously a small sample size, and nearly everyone expects Kelenic to get his footing sooner than later and blossom into a top player in MLB. Someone who thinks very highly of Kelenic is ESPN MLB insider Jeff Passan, who shared his insight into Kelenic and the future of the Mariners during a visit with 710 ESPN Seattle’s Brock and Salk Podcast earlier this week.
Asked what the future for Kelenic is, Passan didn’t waste any time heaping praise onto the 21-year-old outfielder.
“A star. And that’s nice to hear with a Seattle Mariners team that’s had issues rearing such types of players,” he said. “Jarred Kelenic is as legitimate as everyone believes he’s going to be. And the fact that the Mariners have him for the next seven years, it’s just one of those things where if you have a guy who is at that level, you can build around him. He is that type of franchise tentpole around whom a championship-type team can be built.”
Those are obviously lofty expectations for any player, let alone a 21 year old who now has 34 MLB plate appearances to his name, but Passan is as keyed in to the game of baseball as any and he hears all sorts of great things about Kelenic from evaluators across the league.
“They think that his swing is built for power, that it’s built for average, that he has a good eye at the plate, that all the tools are there for him to be that frontline-type player,” Passan said. “Look, guys like that miss and that’s just the reality of sports. But they don’t miss very often. When you see someone who has been as productive as he’s been at the ages he’s been productive? That’s the big part about it. He’s 21 years old and he’s excelled everywhere he’s been, so there’s no reason yet to believe he’s not going to do the same at the highest level.”
And the best news for the Mariners and their future is that they have one of the top farm systems in baseball, even with Kelenic and fellow top prospect Logan Gilbert now in the big leagues.
“I’m not saying the M’s are (contenders) – there’s a lot left to do – but it’s a really, really good place to start,” Passan said. “When you see him and Logan Gilbert debuting on the same day, when you know Julio Rodríguez and Cal Raleigh and Emerson Hancock are on their way as well and George Kirby, I mean there’s just a lot of talent there right now.”
And that talent, Passan said, could be enough where if the Mariners add “the right types of free agents” they could wind up in “a fantastic position” when it comes to being a legitimate World Series contender.
So looking ahead to the right types of free agents, Passan shared his thoughts on Seattle’s potential moves in the future, starting with this upcoming offseason.
“It’s going to be very interesting to see among those young but not very young guys who they buy in to,” he said. “And mainly I’m looking at like J.P. Crawford and Dylan Moore.”
Passan said that Moore, a utility player who has taken over as Seattle’s usual second baseman, is someone who had a great 2020 season and has power, can steal bases and is a good baserunner, but he needs to hit for better average to stick around long-term. Moore is currently on the injured list and has a .168 batting average in 2021.
With Crawford, Passan sees someone who “seemingly has all the talent in the world” and at times looks like the Mariners’ shortstop of the future. The issue comes when you compare Crawford to players who will be on the market this offseason.
“When you have a free-agent class that includes (shortstops) Javier Báez and Carlos Correa and Trevor Story and Corey Seager, all of a sudden you can start dreaming a little bit,” Passan said. “If you can put a franchise-type shortstop in the same lineup as an outfield that includes Kyle Lewis, Jarred Kelenic and Mitch Haniger, and if somebody like Ty France can step up and be that DH that you’re looking for (that would be great for the Mariners).”
While almost any team would be excited about adding one of those All-Star shortstops to their roster for 2022 and beyond, however, Passan isn’t saying the Mariners need to be a top spender in free agency this offseason.
“I’m also not going to come out and say that the Mariners should go buck wild in free agency this upcoming offseason. I don’t know that now is the time. It almost feels like after next year would be the right time to start pushing a little bit more all in,” he said.
“If you can get a shortstop, get a shortstop, 100%,” he said. “But in terms of completely turning over the roster this offseason, I don’t know that they’re at that point quite yet. I think patience would be a virtue for this team.”
One word to describe the Mariners
Mike Salk and Passan had the following exchange regarding the future of the Mariners:
Salk: “The future of the Mariners is what? Fill in the blank.”
Salk: “Meaning it’s on the rise and you believe it will get there?”
Passan: “That’s what ascendant means.”
Listen to the full Brock and Salk Podcast at this link or in the player below.