‘No reason to panic’ after Mariners OF Jarred Kelenic’s rocky debut

Jan 21, 2022, 11:18 AM

Mariners Jarred Kelenic...

Jarred Kelenic of the Seattle Mariners reacts after his RBI single during the second inning against the Los Angeles Angels at T-Mobile Park on Sunday. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

This time last year, few expected the Mariners to be 90-game winners in the upcoming season. But that’s exactly what happened as Seattle exceeded expectations and finished the year just two games out of a playoff berth.

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What was expected, however, was the highly-anticipated MLB debut of outfielder Jarred Kelenic, a then-top-five prospect in all of baseball.

Kelenic didn’t break camp with the Mariners, but he made his debut in mid-May.

Kelenic went hitless in his first MLB game, but he had three hits including a home run in his second game and it appeared that the Mariners may have the American League Rookie of the Year for the second season in a row.

But after that three-hit game, Kelenic struggled mightily. All in all, the young outfielder hit just .096 with 26 strikeouts in 23 games in his first stint in the big leagues before he was sent down.

Kelenic would return in mid-July and play better for the rest of the season, but his overall rookie numbers weren’t what many expected as he slashed .181/.265/.350 with 14 home runs in 93 games.

Someone who has kept a close eye on Kelenic since he was drafted in 2018 is Kyle Glaser, a national writer for Baseball America.

He joined 710 ESPN Seattle’s Jake and Stacy last week to talk all about the Mariners’ young players and farm system and, naturally, Kelenic’s tough rookie season came up.

The good news for Mariners fans is that Glaser doesn’t think you need to hit the panic button when looking at Kelenic going forward.

“We saw him get better every single month,” Glaser said. “If you just break down his batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, his power numbers each month, he got a little bit better, a little bit better, a little bit better. And that’s what you want to see from young players.”

Indeed, after slashing .096/.185/.193 in May and June, Kelenic slashed .154/.228/.212 in July and then .196/.282/.371 in August.

The young outfielder really came alive in September and October, though, slashing .248/.331/.524 with seven of his 14 home runs and 20 of his 43 RBIs in those 29 games.

“There’s always an adjustment period people forget (about),” Glaser said of players’ MLB debuts. “Go look at Mike Trout’s first run through the majors. Go look at Aaron Judge’s first run through the majors. It’s such a big adjustment. There’s no reason to panic.”

Kelenic’s steady improvement show he’s on the right track, Glaser said, and he still has very high hopes for Kelenic’s future with the Mariners.

“This is someone who we at Baseball America have long projected to be an All-Star caliber outfielder who, with (top prospect Julio Rodríguez), should give the Mariners one of the best outfields in the American League of the 2020s,” Glaser said. “I really am not concerned about Kelenic in any way. (His struggles were) just the natural bumps that every young player faces once they come up to the major leagues and he’ll be fine.”

So Glaser is high on Kelenic and is very high on Rodríguez (read more about him at this link). But what obstacles could possibly prevent the two young outfielders from reaching their potential?

“There’s no such thing as a guaranteed prospect, no matter how amazing they seem … With Jarred Kelenic, the thing with him, he’s just so intense, and such a competitor,” Glaser said. “There have been times where that has been a little bit destructive where he’ll go 0-4 and start to spiral and can’t get out of his own head and just get angrier and angrier. And we saw that and his first stint and they actually had to send him back down to Triple-A to kind of get a reset to get him out of that mental rut.”

Glaser said seeing how Kelenic combats failure going forward will be worth monitoring.

“The thing with him is just sort of managing those emotions and staying even keeled over the course of a long season,” he said. “Look, everyone has a stretch where they go 0-20 or 1-30. It’s going to happen. So just seeing how that grows, and that should come with time and maturity.”

What about Rodríguez?

“Julio Rodríguez, he’s had a lot of little injuries,” Glaser said. “He really hasn’t had an opportunity to play a full major league season. It’s not like it’s been anything chronic, but (things like) the guy dives for a ball and breaks his wrist. He’s just had a lot of different little things that have kept them off the field. So that would be the main thing to watch with him is just making sure those don’t start to add up.”

Listen to Glaser’s full discussion with Jake Heaps and Stacy Rost in the podcast at this link or in the player below.

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‘No reason to panic’ after Mariners OF Jarred Kelenic’s rocky debut