MLB Insider Jon Morosi: Mariners and Jarred Kelenic face key questions after his demotion
The 2021 MLB season has already seen the debut of top Mariners prospect Jarred Kelenic, but his stint in the big leagues didn’t last long as he was demoted to Triple-A Tacoma after hitting under .100 in 23 games.
Kelenic’s debut was very hyped up as he’s MLB Pipeline’s No. 4 prospect in baseball and he’s seen as a five-tool player who could be a perennial All-Star and face of the Mariners. But unfortunately, Kelenic’s early struggles were a familiar sight for Mariners fans who have grown accustom to well-regarded prospects struggling out of the gate after their MLB debuts.
Someone who is well in tune with MLB is Jon Morosi of MLB Network, who joined 710 ESPN Seattle’s Wyman and Bob on Friday to discuss Kelenic’s MLB struggles and his recent demotion.
When should the Mariners call him back up? And what questions need to be answered not just with Kelenic, but with how the Mariners deal with top prospects making their debuts? Here’s what Morosi had to say.
“I think that you’re right that there should be no rush in bringing him back,” Morosi told Wyman and Bob host Bob Stelton. “This is not about waiting for him to prove again he can hit Triple-A pitching. We know that he can do that, it’s not a question. He’s proven that before and he’s hit everywhere he’s ever been. I think this is a matter of rebuilding his confidence. And the next level (of his demotion) is (for the Mariners) to ask internally in a real intentional way, ‘How do we help our best players get better and improve once they get to the major league level?'”
Unfortunately for the Mariners, Morosi said, struggling mightily early on isn’t a problem that only Kelenic had.
Morosi said the Mariners have had issues with other top young prospects, such as outfielder Taylor Trammell, who have made their MLB debuts and really struggled at the plate. Trammell, like Kelenic, debuted this year and was demoted to Triple-A. He has since returned to the MLB roster and is playing better than in his first taste of MLB action.
“If Kelenic and Trammell hit at the major league level the way that their Triple-A performance suggests that they can, then the Mariners really have something,” Morosi said. “But if they plateau a little bit and stop getting better then you have to wonder what the issue is.”
One area Morosi said could be an issue is with the coaching when it comes to young players making the MLB roster for the first time.
“Is there a disconnect in coaching? I don’t know. I’m not in the clubhouse everyday,” he said. “I’m just saying the results are at a point where you have to wonder is this just Jarred Kelenic having a few bad weeks? Or is it a deeper issue of players not improving as much as you want them to? And I think that’s going to be one of the key questions before the Mariners’ front office and their field staff in the weeks and months to come.”
When it comes to Kelenic, Morosi still thinks the Mariners’ top prospect can be like former MVP Bryce Harper. Harper, Morosi said, can also get on cold streaks, but he’s not sure if Harper ever had a massive hitless streak like Kelenic did prior to his demotion.
Morosi thinks that some of the outside noise may have gotten to Kelenic, who has been labeled by many as the future face of the Mariners despite being just 22 years old.
“With Kelenic, I really think the pressure on him was amped up,” he said. “And part of this is something he has to deal with … I think he wants to be (Mike) Trout-like player. He wants to be a Harper-like player. And he has that kind of ability. But when you do that, it takes a real strength of mental focus every single day to not try to do too much and I think he tried to do too much.”
And with Kelenic, that pressure wasn’t just based on high expectations of him. Morosi pointed to offseason drama with former team president Kevin Mather, who insinuated that the Mariners were manipulating Kelenic’s service time because he didn’t sign a long-term contract in 2020.
“It could be any number of those factors,” Morosi said. “The reality is he was hit with a bunch of adversity immediately at the highest level and he didn’t respond the way we expected him to, and he’s not the first or last person for whom that’s the case.”
And whenever Kelenic does get called back up, Morosi said the Mariners’ coaches are under a lot of pressure to help him and other young players reach their full potential. But, Morosi added, “at some point in time, it’s up to the players.”
“With all due respect, if the pressure of performing and the pressure of his contract being talked about and the pressure of the noise of the organization in spring training, if that’s going to get to him and prevent him from playing then I have missed in my evaluation of who he’s going to be because I think he’s going to be a great player, I really do,” Morosi said. “I still believe that. But at some point in time it can’t be about the external noise … Whenever Kelenic comes back – and I hope it’s soon, but not obviously before he has his confidence back going again – but at some point in time it has to stop being about the contract and the organization and start being about, ‘How do I execute in the batter’s box at 7 p.m.?’ And I think Jarred is smart enough and talented enough where that’s eventually going to be the case.”
Listen to Friday’s edition of Wyman and Bob at this link or in the player below.