O’Neil: Kelenic’s struggles weren’t good, but they were the best thing for his relationship with Mariners
There is an upside to Mariners rookie Jarred Kelenic’s big league struggles.
Not that anyone wants to hear it right now. You’re all too busy wailing about the fact that the Mariners can’t have nice things, referencing the ghosts of Seattle’s player development past and generally being miserable and ornery about how this organization’s top prospects never pan out because, you know, Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez never happened.
Look, I understand if you’re determined to get your grump on about Jarred Kelenic. The outfielder who is the franchise’s top prospect since Félix Hernández broke into the big leagues 16 years ago was just sent down to Triple-A Tacoma after seeing his hitless streak reach 39 at-bats. So maybe you’re mad that the Mariners promoted Kelenic too soon, or perhaps you’re convinced the player was over-hyped, or maybe you’re just one of those dudes determined to let 20 years of frustration cloud your ability to have a clear-eyed view about what is currently happening.
And if you’re one of those folks who’s dead set on being angry, you’re in luck. I’m going to make you even angrier by saying that what has happened in the three weeks since Kelenic was promoted might be the best thing in the long-term relationship between the club and this particular player.
Let me put this another way: What would have happened had Kelenic hit the ground running? What if his performance on his second day with the Mariners, when he homered and doubled twice, was an appetizer instead of an aberration?
We would have been excited. We would have celebrated. We would have toasted the success and imagined more to come, but we also would have wondered whether he could have been doing this sooner. Not just the start of this season but last year as well.
Kelenic certainly felt that was the case. He hinted he was ready last year while training in Tacoma and said as much this year in an interview with USA Today early in spring training.
Had he spent the last three weeks clobbering opposing pitchers, it would have been validated. Now? It’s less likely that those feelings will cast as long of a shadow given the depth of Kelenic’s hitting woes after his promotion. The past three weeks have shown that Kelenic – while incredibly talented – was not being held back by the Mariners, having his imminent success delayed to better suit the franchise’s timeline.
There’s still some work left to do here before Kelenic is major league-caliber. I’m not sure if anyone knows exactly how much, but there’s work to be done, and while Kelenic may have felt he was being stifled by Seattle’s development plan before his call-up, he’s more likely to lean into it now as he tries to get back to Seattle as quickly as possible.
I’m not trying to tell you that Kelenic’s struggles are actually a good thing. They are not. This was agonizing to watch. It had to be immensely frustrating for the player, and I’m sure it was concerning for the front office that is ultimately responsible for overseeing Kelenic’s development.
But let’s not mistake these short-term results as some indictment of the long-term process. You push a prospect to the point of failure. It’s an essential step in baseball development. That Kelenic got all the way to the major leagues before experiencing what could be described as an extended struggle is a testament to his talent even as his stretch of 38 straight hitless at-bats demonstrates the degree of difficulty in the big leagues – even for the Mariners’ top hitting prospect in almost 30 years. No, especially for the Mariners’ top hitting prospect in almost 30 years.
There’s still some work left to do, and the player that some people thought was being held back by the Mariners could use a little help before he gets back to the big leagues.