Is Mariners’ Jarred Kelenic back for good? 3 MLB insiders weigh in

Sep 29, 2022, 3:22 PM

Mariners Jarred Kelenic...

Jarred Kelenic of the Seattle Mariners at bat against the Texas Rangers at T-Mobile Park on September 28, 2022. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Mariners have had their struggles of late but still find themselves on the cusp of ending their 21-year playoff drought.

State of the Mariners: Where things stand with magic number at 2

Someone who played a big role in Seattle’s playoff push a year ago was Jarred Kelenic, the onetime top prospect who struggled to start his MLB career before posting a very good month of September to finish off his rookie season.

That strong finish in 2021 led many to peg Kelenic as a potential breakout candidate for this season as a key contributor on a winning Mariners team. The Mariners have indeed won in 2022, but they’ve done so largely without Kelenic.

In 30 games to start the year, Kelenic struggled mightily, slashing just .140/.219/.291 with just six extra base hits and a strikeout rate of 37.5%. He was subsequently demoted to Triple-A, where he stayed until a brief call back up in late July due to a number of Mariners injuries. Kelenic appeared in 10 games between July 31 and Aug. 10, picking up just two hits in 27 at-bats (.074 average) before being demoted yet again.

Kelenic was recalled again on Sept. 22, however, and so far, so good for the 2018 first-round pick. He’s slashed .273/.360/.546 (.906 OPS) in six games since with four extra base hits and four strikeouts to three walks.

Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto said Thursday morning on Seattle Sports 710 AM that “this version” of Kelenic is “the best version we’ve seen,” and that he showed signs in recent weeks with Triple-A Tacoma that he was doing things the Mariners were hoping he would, namely with pitch selection.

“Over the course of that four-week stretch, Jarred was doing a lot of things in Triple-A that that we think represented, ‘Alright, he is showing us that he’s ready for this next opportunity,’” Dipoto said. “And I think he’s looked great since he’s been back. His at-bats have been terrific.”

It’s a small sample size, but it’s certainly caught the eye of ROOT Sports analyst Mike Blowers as well as ESPN’s Jeff Passan and MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, all of whom are regulars on the Seattle Sports 710 AM airwaves. Here’s a look at what the three baseball insiders have to say about Kelenic.

ESPN’s Jeff Passan

For Passan, he shared Wednesday morning why it was – and is – foolish to write off Kelenic as a long-term MLB player despite his struggles these last two seasons at the big league level.

“I need to see more than a couple of weeks, but it’s there. I mean, it’s there,” he told Brock and Salk. “He’s 23. Like, that’s the wild part of this. He’s 23 years old, and so, honestly, I’m not out on Jarred Kelenic. I don’t give up on talent. And he is, and has always been even through his struggles, an extremely talented person.”

ROOT Sports’ Mike Blowers

Blowers, a former MLB infielder who is with the team throughout the season as a color commentator, shared with Wyman and Bob what he’s seeing from the young outfielder in his latest stint with the Mariners.

“He’s off to a pretty good start since he’s been recalled … It’s a really short sample size, but I think it’s pretty easy to see some of the strides that he’s made,” Blowers said on Wednesday.

Kelenic is seeing the baseball better, Blowers said, which is allowing him to not guess nor try and do too much at the plate. Because of that, the youngster is improving in an area he’s struggled with at the MLB level for two seasons now.

“On the road trip, I saw him hit a double off the wall going opposite field on a breaking ball and I saw him hit a changeup into the gap. Offspeed pitches had been a problem (for him) and he was seeing a ton of them, and it looks like he’s made some adjustments there,” Blowers said.

Additionally, Blowers thinks Kelenic has “shortened things up at the plate,” especially when it comes to his leg kick in his load.

All of this, Blowers said, is helping Kelenic’s confidence.

“The last thing is I think there’s a lot to what (manager Scott Servais) said about him, and that is he can breathe now, just kind of go out and do his job and not have to worry about all this other stuff,” he said. “He’s just in a better place. It always happens with younger players, the minute they go out there and things start to go the way they want them to go – which has been the case with Jarred since being recalled – all of a sudden your confidence goes up and you start to play better and you kind of start to get to where your talent level is.

“So I think all those things combined for him is something that’s pretty exciting to look forward to with his future and where he’s at. He’s immensely talented, we all know that. But maybe he’s just in a much better place right now.”

MLB Network’s Jon Morosi

During Morosi’s Thursday conversation with Wyman and Bob, he talked at length about the mental side of the game. Kelenic, who is well known for having a fiery and intense demeanor, was often compared early in his career to Philadelphia Phillies star and two-time MVP Bryce Harper for his personality as well as toolset.

“And maybe that was unfair – in retrospect, perhaps it was – to expect that level of productivity,” Morosi said. “But there’s a certain seriousness that he brings to the game that I think is important.”

Many of Kelenic’s early struggles were on the mental side as he regularly showed how upset he was with his lack of production. Morosi said that many longtime MLB contributors are able to let things go day to day because you have a new game in 12 to 24 hours once the last one is finished.

When discussing Kelenic and the mental side of the game, Morosi brought up two members of the New York Yankees. One is a Hall of Famer and the other is in the midst of an historic 2022 season.

“Derek Jeter went through terrible struggles in the minor leagues with all the errors that he committed, but he had that belief, hard-earned, that the next play was going to be his,” Morosi said. “And I remember covering him during times when he was batting .100-something in April, and there was never a hint of panic about him. Maybe internally it was different because he’s such a great competitor, but he never let let you see that there was worry there.”

As far as the current player, that would be Aaron Judge, who swatted his 61st home run on Wednesday and appears to be heading to an AL MVP award and a potential Triple Crown finish. Judge struggled mightily in his first taste of MLB action, striking out far too often and hitting just .179 in his first 27-game taste of the majors in 2016.

“For a long time, Aaron wrote that batting average in the bottom of his cleats, so that way he looked at that every time he put on his shoes to remind himself of the humility that was required of him,” Morosi said. “And I would point out that when Aaron Judge, the year that he batted .179, that was his age-24 season. Jarred Kelenic is 23. So there is time in baseball because of when different players arrive. We have to remember to give them a little bit of grace and find their way.”

Kelenic’s “most productive self,” Morosi said, will be due to the mental side of the game, which he called “paramount.”

“It’s what separates the players who have talent from those who endure,” he said. “And he’s got the tools. We know that. And I think he’s finding his way.”

Morosi thinks the Mariners must be “really thrilled” with Kelenic’s first week back with the club, especially since he’s been tasked with playing center field due to the back injury of Julio Rodríguez.

“At the very least, what I think we can say with a good degree of confidence is he is earning a spot on the playoff roster even once Julio comes back,” Morosi said. “He can do enough things. He can defend, he can run the bases, he can give you power. I think he’s on the team. And given the way that his season unfolded, for him to be on a playoff roster in October for this team is no small achievement. That’s a big deal at the age of 23. So I think that should be celebrated for him, and I hope that he really takes a moment to celebrate that with his family and realize the achievement that he’s made there.”

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Is Mariners’ Jarred Kelenic back for good? 3 MLB insiders weigh in