BRANDON GUSTAFSON

Mariners Takeaways: Marco’s important return, understanding Kelenic, Trammell’s future

May 27, 2021, 8:20 AM | Updated: 9:26 am
Mariners LHP Marco Gonzales...
Mariners LHP Marco Gonzales is expected back in the rotation next week. (Getty)
(Getty)

The Mariners were unable to finish off a three-game sweep of the Oakland Athletics on Wednesday, but Seattle still took two of three games from the AL West leaders to bounce back from losing six in a row.

Dipoto Show: Is Raleigh near his call-up? Plus Kelenic, Gilbert thoughts

Now, the Mariners will return home to Seattle for seven games against division opponents starting at 7:10 p.m. Thursday against the Texas Rangers (coverage on 710 ESPN Seattle starts with the pregame show at 6).

Let’s look back on some of the recent action and also look ahead to what figures to be a key day for the Mariners next week near the homestand’s conclusion.

Jarred Kelenic’s “struggles” aren’t really that

So Mariners rookie outfielder Jarred Kelenic had an 0 for 5 day in Seattle’s 6-3 loss to Oakland on Wednesday, dropping his slash line to .157/.218/.314 through 13 MLB games.

Time to panic? Absolutely not.

I know that given the early struggles of fellow hitting prospects Taylor Trammell and Evan White, there may be some concerns that Kelenic is showing that he isn’t ready for MLB action, needs to play less or  something along those lines. But it should be made abundantly clear that what Kelenic is doing at the plate isn’t the same as what White or Trammell went through, and there’s evidence that he should be having better results.

First off, Kelenic is making contact. And he’s making fairly hard contact overall.

According to Statcast, Kelenic has nine strikeouts in 55 plate appearances over his first 13 games, or a 16.4% strikeout rate. The MLB average is roughly 22%. White’s career K rate is 37.6% while Trammell struck out in more than 43% of his plate appearances in 27 MLB games before going down to Triple-A (more on that later).

Kelenic also has an average exit velocity of 86.9 mph, just below the MLB average of 88.3. His barrel percentage of 7.1 is higher than the MLB average of 6.5%.

And in terms of expected batting average (.xBA), Kelenic is at .248 while the MLB average is .243. His hardhit rate of 38.1% also exceeds the MLB average of 35.3%.

Kelenic will see more results turn in his favor given those trends. He’s not missing pitches and he’s making good contact overall. Heck, when he went hitless Wednesday, Kelenic still put two balls into play at over 99 mph, and in his final at-bat of the day, his flyout in shallow left field had an .xBA of .850.

Kelenic picked up three hard hits and a walk in 10 plate appearances in the first two games of the Oakland series, and that could be a precursor to him getting hot. His manager certainly thinks his young outfielder is due to break out soon.

“I think Jarred, even though everybody gets caught up in his batting average, he’s doing a pretty good job. He’s swinging at the right pitches, he doesn’t swing and miss much,” Mariners manager Scott Servais told 710 ESPN Seattle’s Jake and Stacy and Shannon Drayer. “He’s going to catch a streak here where he’s probably going to go 14 for 20 or something like that, or he’s going to be hitting .285 or .300.”

You can read more about what Servais had to say about Kelenic and fellow outfielder Kyle Lewis in the link below.

Servais: Mariners’ Kelenic, Lewis both primed to break out at plate

Bullpen starts should be over

The Mariners have been bit hard by the injury bug this year and as of Wednesday, Seattle has 14 players on either the 10-day injured list, 60-day injured list or the COVID-19 injured list.

Among the most notable injured players is staff ace Marco Gonzales, who has been out since the end of April due to a forearm strain after making five starts with a 5.40 ERA. According to Servais, Gonzales should be back in action in the upcoming homestand, which will give the club a big boost not only because of his talent but because it will put an end to bullpen starts for the foreseeable future.

Seattle’s pitching depth has been stretched thin despite utilizing a six-man starting rotation due to injuries to Gonzales and James Paxton, who began the year in the rotation, as well as Nick Margevicius and Ljay Newsome, who were initial replacements.

Yusei Kikuchi, Chris Flexen, Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn are still healthy and making their regular turns, but Gonzales and Paxton’s spots in the rotation have been hard to fill, especially with Margevicius and Newsome also going down.

Top pitching prospect Logan Gilbert made his third start of the season Tuesday and figures to be a full-time member of the rotation for the rest of 2021, and Gonzales’ return will round out the six-man turn.

With those injuries, Seattle has been forced to use relievers as starters for anywhere from one to three innings every six games. The results have been mixed – the highlight was the bullpen outdueling 2020 Cy Young winner Shane Bieber, but the relievers also allowed six runs in Wednesday’s loss to Oakland.

Servais told reporters before Wednesday’s game that the hope is for Gonzales to return to the mound the next time his original spot in the rotation comes up, which would be June 1. That will allow the relievers, who have been additionally stretched thin due to COVID-19, to get back to a more regular workload going forward.

“Marco is progressing very well. I’m hopeful that this is our last bullpen day and that Marco can slide in the next time this spot comes around,” Servais said. “We’ll just have to see how that goes.”

Servais followed up with reporters after Wednesday’s game that Gonzales threw a three-inning sim game that went “very well.”

Surprise trade chip?

After struggling mightily in his first taste of MLB action, Mariners outfield prospect Taylor Trammell has absolutely bullied Triple-A pitching since his demotion.

The Mariners now have an extremely talented three-man outfield with Kelenic, Kyle Lewis and Mitch Haniger set to play every day going forward, however, so if Trammell were to be called up, he’d either serve as a fourth outfielder, or the designated hitter position would need to be used to get all four outfielders in the lineup.

But there may be something else you shouldn’t rule out with Trammell, and that’s a potential trade.

MLB Network insider Jon Morosi called Trammell “one of the most fascinating players in MLB” in a recent tweet, pointing to a recent adjustment at the plate that’s made him playing exceptionally well in the minors. Morosi then posed whether the Mariners could promote him in a “crowded outfield” or consider trading him to a team in need of a young left-handed hitting outfielder like the New York Yankees or the Chicago White Sox.

Now, it’s unclear what the Mariners plan to do at the trade deadline that is still over two months away. They were very quiet in the offseason and are hovering around .500 through 50 games, so perhaps they decide to let the current roster play things out the rest of the way.

But the idea of trading Trammell is certainly an interesting one. In addition to the Mariners’ aforementioned MLB outfield they have now, top prospect Julio Rodríguez, yet another talented outfielder, is expected to climb through the team’s minor league system at a fast rate. That makes Trammell’s long-term future with the Mariners unclear, especially if the team holds on to Haniger, the elder statesman at 30 years old (he’s a free agent after 2022).

In the short term, Trammell offers the Mariners security in case of an injury or a necessary day off in the big leagues. When one of Haniger, Lewis or Kelenic are out of the lineup altogether or used as the DH, Seattle typically has a utility player who’s a natural infielder playing in the outfield like Dylan Moore, Sam Haggerty or, in Wednesday’s case, Donovan Walton, who had never played the outfield in a pro or college game.

Trading young, controllable talent isn’t something general manager Jerry Dipoto has done much of since the Mariners’ rebuild began in 2019, so shipping Trammell out of town after only 27 MLB games would be out of the norm. He just might if the return turns out to be too much to pass up, though. We’ve seen Dipoto part ways with players you wouldn’t expect him to before, most notably at last year’s trade deadline when San Diego paid a premium for catcher Austin Nola and two relievers, sending Seattle four very interesting players in return – including Trammell.

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Mariners Takeaways: Marco’s important return, understanding Kelenic, Trammell’s future