Fann: Jarred Kelenic has chance to play hero for Mariners — again

Sep 22, 2022, 10:26 AM
Mariners Jarred Kelenic...
Mariners outfielder Jarred Kelenic reacts after a home run against Arizona on Sept. 11, 2021. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Well, here we go again.

Jarred Kelenic is back with the Mariners after another successful stint in Triple-A Tacoma, and the big league club could sorely use a jolt in the lineup.

Jarred Kelenic returns as Mariners make series of roster moves

Seattle is currently trudging through a 1-5 road trip with four games left to play. In four of those losses, the Mariners have managed to score just one run. They have five hits over their last two games in Oakland, both losses in which they scored one lonely run.

That provides Kelenic with another prime opportunity to play hero and begin the rejuvenation of his MLB career. His numbers with the Rainiers have been stellar this season with a .295 average and 18 home runs. The issue is that his minor league production has yet to translate consistently in Seattle save for a hot September in 2021 where he hit seven homers and posted an impressive 135 wRC+.

The rest of his time in the bigs has been dreary at best. In 500 career plate appearances, Kelenic is hitting just .167 at the MLB level with a .246 on-base percentage, 18 home runs, a strikeout rate of 30.6% and a wRC+ of just 63 (league average is always 100). The numbers are even worse if you only consider his production in 2022, where he has posted a 38.2% strikeout rate and a 30 wRC+ over 123 plate appearances.

Kelenic has regularly looked lost and overmatched by MLB pitching while lacking a command for the strike zone. His career chase rate is 29.3%, just barely over the league average of 28.4%. The bigger issue is that when he is chasing balls out of the zone, he’s whiffing. Kelenic’s chase contact rate is 49.8%, well below the league average of 58.3%.

His struggles with the Mariners have featured a plethora of swing changes from his setup to his load to his leg kick – you name it. The constant tweaking and tinkering to his mechanics is indicative of Kelenic continually pressing while seemingly having little fun playing the game.

Some of that is human nature. Kelenic was the sixth overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft straight out of high school. He proceeded to tear up the minor leagues, initially in the Mets organization than with Seattle after being the centerpiece of the Mariners’ return in their trade of Robinson Canó and Edwin Díaz. He never had to deal with consistent failure until he made it to the big leagues. That’s a tough situation to navigate when coupled with the pressures of being a top prospect.

But he loses my sympathy when it comes to his apparent gripes with the organization. On Aug. 30, Kelenic unfollowed the Mariners on Instagram and removed his profile of all team-affiliated content. Some of you might roll your eyes at the mention of social media, but I promise you that decision wasn’t made indifferently, nor was it random. It coincided with Taylor Trammell being called up over Kelenic when major league active rosters expanded from 26 to 28 on Sept. 1.

It’s not that complicated. Had Kelenic produced even remotely competently at the plate in the majors, he never would have been sent down in the first place. There has to be an ownership and accountability to where Kelenic can look inward and understand everyone in Seattle is pulling for him. That includes an organization that is currently on the losing end of its mega-deal with the Mets given Díaz’s dominance this season.

The opportunities should be there over the final two weeks of the season. To Kelenic’s credit, his glove has improved drastically this season. He should get regular starts in left field with Sam Haggerty ideally spending more time at second base and Jesse Winker being relegated exclusively to designated hitter against righties.

And as the Mariners are on the cusp of clinching a playoff spot for the first time since 2001, wouldn’t it be something if Kelenic played a significant role in pushing them across the finish line? He has the opportunity he’s been seeking. Now it’s time for Kelenic to take advantage.

More on the Mariners from Seattle Sports

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Mariners Breakdown: Who will step up to finish off the playoff push?
Top Mariners prospect Harry Ford lights up WBC qualifiers
Lefko: Mariners dealing with weight other wild card hopefuls aren’t
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