SHANNON DRAYER

Drayer: Kelenic’s demotion is best way to get him where Mariners need him to be

May 13, 2022, 1:30 PM | Updated: 2:13 pm
Mariners Jarred Kelenic...
Jarred Kelenic of the Seattle Mariners reacts to a strike out against the Chicago White Sox. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
(Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

When a team struggles the way the Mariners have struggled the past two weeks, moves are to be expected and on Friday in New York, the moves came. Among them, Jarred Kelenic, who was slashing .140/.219/.291, was sent down to Tacoma for the second time in his young career.

Mariners make 8 roster moves, including demoting Kelenic to Tacoma

On his weekly show on Seattle Sports on Thursday morning, Jerry Dipoto hinted that such a move could be made when discussing the challenges with the current 40-man roster.

“We have to figure out how because we have a number of players that need it and we have to do the best we can to get them in a better place,” he said. “It’s never something you want to view through the lens of being punitive; you want to help and find a way to get back to a good place where your process is good. We were able to do it a week ago with Matt Brash, and there are a few more guys that we would like to get into that situation and we have to find a way.”

Kelenic had attempted to make changes at the big league level, but the adjustments he made did not yield the desired results. He now finds himself in a position familiar to even some of the best hitters in the game. The environment, however, different.

Struggling in your first, second or third go around in the big leagues is nothing new in baseball, but the challenges hitters are facing in 2022 is. It is a topic Mike Blowers addressed on the Mariners Postgame Show earlier this week.

“I think it’s not even in the same area code right now, period,” he said when asked how different the pitching was from 10 years ago. ”I think that’s the reason why the younger players have a tougher time with it. Because they go through it and they have had all this success and then they get up here and I guarantee you, they shake their heads and go, ‘Alright, when’s the night we get a little bit of a break?’ Because it just doesn’t happen anymore.

“Even when I was playing, everybody had their No. 1 guy that was going to be a rough night for the hitters. And then that No. 2 (was) probably pretty good, too, but then 3-4-5, let’s make some hay. That’s where we are going to get our numbers. Not so much now because if even that’s the case and you get a starter out there, you see him twice and then they go to the bullpen which is nasty. Hitting is really difficult, I think.”

Blowers pointed out that big league hitters today are seeing more velocity and better breaking balls than ever. The problem is they are not seeing much of that in the minor leagues, certainly not on a consistent basis. The divide between minor league and big league pitching on a nightly basis is great. Add experience to the stuff and it presents a nightmare for young hitters in particular.

“I think the biggest separator for the hitters is they have to command the strike zone and they still have to be able to deal with the nasty breaking ball and velo at the top of the zone,” said Blowers. “That’s changed everything. I can’t imagine telling people how hard it is to handle that, even for the most veteran hitter.”

Young hitters being sent down for a second time is not a concern for Blowers.

“It’s really difficult and for these guys I think it is a real eye opener that’s why I am never surprised when they come up, they fail, they might go back down and it might take two or three times before it finally clicks. The one thing you can see with these young players is why they are such high prospects. They are superior athletes and you can tell by the way they do things it’s different. They are just not a polished major league players and that just comes with time and with failure and going back down and this is what I need to work on and doing it again until they get it.”

Mariners assistant general manager Justin Hollander said offense is down across baseball while stuff for pitchers is at an all-time high.

“Not to put too fine a point on it, it’s never been harder to hit in in the big leagues,” Hollander said. “We feel like the separation between Triple-A and the big leagues is bigger than it ever has been, and the stuff in the big leagues is better than it’s ever has been.”

Young position players are struggling to adapt more than they ever have in the history of the game, Hollander added.

“That leap from Triple-A or Double-A to the big leagues for position players is the biggest leap that we’ve ever seen in terms of the transition from the minor leagues to the big leagues, and we have to give people time to adapt and adjust,” he said. “And when you see the few young players that are really adapting and thriving, it points out how special they really are and separates them from almost every other young player going right now. It’s really hard.”

Hollander had someone describe the jump from the minors to MLB as a “transition tax” for position players and their clubs.

“We’ve never seen players and clubs pay a higher transition tax than what we’re paying right now to incorporate young players into the big leagues,” Hollander said. “And that’s just something we’ll have to adjust to and work through and understand. It’s just gonna take guys a little longer to adapt, because this stuff is so good in the big leagues.”

A year ago, getting young players experience at the big league level was the priority for the Mariners. This year, the priority is winning.

Steven Souza Jr., who was called up to replace Kelenic on the roster, was swinging a hot bat in Tacoma and could help in the short-term. This move in terms of the team is not about the immediate, however.

This offense was built largely around what Kelenic projects to be. This is the best way to get him there.

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Drayer: Kelenic’s demotion is best way to get him where Mariners need him to be