Drayer: What Mariners rookie Jarred Kelenic can get out of return to minors
In some ways, it seems unfortunate that Mariners rookie Jarred Kelenic being sent back to Triple-A Tacoma will be an above-the-fold, top-of-the-page headline.
Most young players, regardless of prospect standing, don’t stick after their first big league call-up. Struggling through your first look at big league pitching then having to be sent down to regroup, work with what you have just seen and often build back confidence, is all part of the usual process. But when you are a top prospect hyped by the team, the league, the fans – and yes, the self-hype as well – every move, good or bad, expected or unexpected, is under the microscope.
As a result, Kelenic experiencing what most other players experience at some point received the spotlight. Now he gets a break from that spotlight and a chance to work his way back.
While it would have been nice for everybody involved if Kelenic had come up to the big leagues and survived, if not thrived, having to be sent back down is more often than not part of the process. It was clear the Mariners were willing to give him time regardless of the numbers as long as he was putting up consistent plate appearances, hitting the ball hard and showing the ability to make adjustments. Early on he was doing that, but there was one early comment from Kelenic that was concerning.
When he met with the media May 24 via Zoom, at that point hitting .135 in 40 plate appearances, an upbeat Kelenic admitted that not helping the team win was frustrating at times, but he said he was in a good place and recognizing that he was at times the victim of bad luck, which happens in baseball. All of that was true, but he also made this observation.
“They’re really nibbling on me when I am at the plate,” he said. “I’ve noticed it, that’s something they are doing. I wouldn’t say I have gotten a lot of pitches to hit but the ones that I have, there have been times that me being hard on myself, I’ve missed a couple of pitches that maybe I should have drove.”
There is a good chance that Kelenic has since come to realize that’s just big league pitching, particularly this year. There aren’t as many mistakes to hit, and we are seeing more and more pitching on the edges. If you miss your pitch in an at-bat, chances are good you won’t get another and chances are it won’t get any easier the next day.
Jake Fraley, who recently returned to the Mariners after a rehab assignment in Tacoma, gave a good picture of the what hitters are seeing in the big leagues versus the minors.
“I think the biggest difference is in Triple-A, you have kind of your sporadic guys in Triple-A that you kind of lean on, it’s not as uncomfortable an at-bat, whereas in the big leagues you never, ever have that,” Fraley said. “Every single person that comes to step on the mound that you step in the box against is a challenge. They are the elite of the elite. You don’t really have that kind of grace period that you have in Triple-A every now and then.”
Fraley pointed out that doesn’t mean that you are not challenged in Triple-A as you do run into pockets of pitchers who do have big league experience, and that is good news for Kelenic as he goes to work with the knowledge he now has. It won’t be the same but there will be pitchers who pitch him the way he was pitched in the majors, and he should see a good number of breaking and off-speed pitches, which appeared to give him some trouble.
Perhaps most importantly he will get to take a breath. That opportunity benefited Taylor Trammell, who hit the ground running – and swinging – after being sent down by the Mariners earlier this season, homering in his first game back in Tacoma.
Over the weekend when asked about the struggles Kelenic was going through, Trammell pointed out that his situation in some ways was unique.
“It’s tough,” he said. “He’s not gone through this ever in his life. Every single person in this locker room has gone through it.”
Working his way through a struggle was not a box Jarred Kelenic had checked off in his time in the minor leagues. Over the last three weeks we saw him struggle, and we saw – and sometimes heard – him react. We did not see him work his way out of that struggle. There’s little question the reaction comes from caring. He is intense, he wants to win. Whether that intensity is a help or a hindrance remains to be seen.
“He’s competing every single time he goes out there,” said Trammell. “When you start to worry about certain guys is when they start to give up. He’s not doing that. It’s one of those things where you just look at him and he’s going to have a very successful career. The hits are going to come. I was going though this two weeks ago, still going through it. I look at him and I see kind of the same thing I was going through. I didn’t give up, I’m still not giving up. Both of us are going out there every single day, we want to go out there every day, we want to compete, we want to win to be a playoff contending team. That’s what we want to do.”
For Trammell, relief came with belief.
“It’s baseball,” he said. “It can be a very unforgiving game as far as hits, stats, but we as players usually just try to get the process. It stinks, I can’t stand it when people say it to me, but it is true – it’s the process we are going through and we are all learning at the same time.”
Kelenic has demonstrated that he knows enough about the game to understand that what he is going through is part of the process. It may be a personal bump in the road, but in the game itself, it’s perhaps more of a step. As for the next step? Like everything else he has done, he will be closely watched.
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