Why Mariners’ Jarred Kelenic could get big help from MLB’s shift rule

Sep 17, 2022, 9:48 AM | Updated: 9:52 am

Mariners Jarred Kelenic...

Jarred Kelenic of the Seattle Mariners hits a RBI double against the Miami Marlins. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

(Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

The way defense is played next season will look different in Mariners games thanks to one of multiple rule changes that have been set by MLB for 2023.

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The shift as you know it will no longer be, as MLB approved a rule where there must be two infielders on each side of second base, and all infielders’ feet must be touching the infield dirt. That means you won’t see shortstops or third basemen playing in territory traditionally belonging to the second baseman, nor will you see infielders playing shallow right field while leaving a big hole open on the left side.

The change comes after passionate arguments for years from those who oppose the shift and those who think managers should be allowed to align their defense in the best way to get outs. The hope from the league is that it will make for a more aesthetically pleasing game where hits up the middle are once again hits, and line drives into shallow right field from left-handed pull hitters are no longer caught by a fielder who barely has to move.

One big question about the restriction is what kind of players it will help the most. Mariners general manager/president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto was asked that in regards to his own players Thursday during his weekly show on Seattle Sports, and he first pointed at a player who has yet to live up to his potential as a former top prospect.

“I do think that organizationally we’ve got a few left-hand hitters that will certainly benefit,” Dipoto said. “In the minor leagues, I would say Jarred Kelenic is someone who, just watching stylistically over the course of the last few years, seems a logical benefactor in this way.”

The ability to go the other way is something Kelenic was focused on coming into this season, but having that in the back of his mind while still trying to find his footing against big league pitching may have been one thing too many for the now 23-year-old outfielder who has spent most of this year with the Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers.

Later Thursday on Seattle Sports’ Wyman and Bob, MLB Network’s Jon Morosi shared his insight on why the shift restriction could help a hitter like Kelenic so much.

“I think there’s probably going to be players on all teams that will benefit from this. There may be a handful where you say if it’s a Joey Gallo, for example, ‘Wow, this is sort of the best thing that’s ever happened to these players.’ And I think for Jarred, it will probably help,” Morosi said. “Certainly, he’s struggled relative to expectations for a while now, and I do believe that when you’re able to get to this point and have the shifts removed from your thought process, it frees up a player mentally to just look at the field the same way they’ve looked at it since they were 12.”

Morosi added that there could be a two-sided element helping Kelenic next year.

“It is a bit of a chicken or the egg thing where not only will Kelenic’s shot to the right side of the infield be a base hit now, but also it allows him to know in the back of his mind that that shot to right field is going to be a base hit,” he said. “And as a consequence, you don’t need to say, ‘Well, the only way that I can get a hit is if I hit the ball over the wall in right field. That’s my only shot.’ He probably felt multiple times as if there were 18 defensive players out there all exactly where the ball was going and he had no hope but to hit it into the seats, and I think that mentally that’s a grind.

“You could tell Kelenic’s somebody that expects so much out of himself – it’s been a grind for him, he’s had a tough time (in MLB play). I do believe that the new rules will liberate him to a degree to be the best player he can be. … So it’ll make a huge impact I believe for a number of players around the league, and I think for Seattle’s perspective Kelenic is hopefully at the top of that list. I think it will just translate to him being a much freer version of himself when they see him in spring training next spring.”

You can listen to the full conversation with Morosi, who joins Wyman and Bob at 5 p.m. every Thursday, in the podcast at this link or in the player below.

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