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Dipoto: How differences for Mariners will help Kelenic, Crawford

Feb 6, 2023, 9:31 AM

Mariners Jarred Kelenic J.P. Crawford...

Jarred Kelenic celebrates a home run at Yankee Stadium with Mariners teammate J.P. Crawford in 2021. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

For a third straight spring, a lot of attention is being paid to how Jarred Kelenic will figure into the Mariners’ lineup.

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Kelenic struggled for much of 2021 after making his MLB debut that May, but he had his moments down the stretch that year. Unfortunately for Seattle, he wasn’t able to build on that in 2022 and spent most of the season with Triple-A Tacoma.

The Mariners are again heading into a season with the hope that Kelenic can be an integral piece of their lineup, but they’re going about it in a different way. And with improved depth for their offense, Kelenic’s spot isn’t the only one where Seattle is looking to relieve pressure.

On last week’s edition of The Jerry Dipoto Show on Seattle Sports, the Mariners president of baseball operations shared how the team’s depth plays a big part in new plans both in left field – where Kelenic is expected to play – and the middle infield.

Bigger net for Kelenic

The 23-year-old Kelenic has played in 134 games for the Mariners, and somewhat surprisingly, the left-handed hitter has not really been protected from southpaw pitching.

Over the last two seasons, Kelenic has made 202 plate appearances against lefties for a .157/.228/.243 slash line (.471 OPS) with three home runs. He’s been better in 356 plate appearances versus righties, owning a .175/.264/.394 slash (.658 OPS) with 18 homers.

Seattle now has a way to protect him when a left-hander is on the mound after signing veteran slugger AJ Pollock, who has always hit well against lefties, to serve in a platoon with Kelenic.

“I don’t know if we did the best we could do to set Jarred up for success a year ago,” Dipoto said. “There wasn’t a lot of net to catch him if he struggled, and the expectation was, ‘Alright, he’s been through his struggle in ’21 and this is a new year, a new Jarred, we’ll be good.’ Obviously it was a struggle for him again and we had to make a change there.

“This year, how we tried to put him in a better position is to go build a group around him that allowed him the opportunity to take an 0 for 8 over a couple of days stretch without sinking into that same long-term struggle. By having guys like AJ Pollock on your club, it really does offset some of the threat because so much of the struggle that Jarred has had is often caused by running into a couple of tough lefties, and then he puts some pressure on himself and it escalates.”

The Mariners still have a couple of young lefty-hitting outfielders that provide insurance in the event Kelenic slumps again and needs a tuneup with the Rainiers, though it is worth noting he has just one year of minor league options left.

“We’re also in a position with some depth in young left-hand hitters that he’s not flying alone – he has help from Taylor Trammell, from Cade Marlowe,” Dipoto said. “There’s been a lot of pressure on Jarred over these last couple of years, and to relieve some of that I think is going to go a long way in addition to the wonderful work we think he’s done this offseason.”

The hope is that Kelenic will show insurance isn’t needed, and Dipoto still believes that he will tap into the potential that made Kelenic a big name as a prospect.

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“He is incredibly talented, he’s still incredibly young, he has conquered every level to this point other than the major leagues. And for us not to continue to give him the reps and allow what he does on a baseball field to break through at the big leagues – he could be a difference-making player, not just for us in ’23 but over the course of the next, who knows how many years? He’s 23 years old. And that is an enticing thing that we just can’t walk past because the talent’s just too great.

“… Right now, we are in a very good place with Jarred where I think we have a wonderful opportunity for him at the big league level. We built a team that I think features him in the way that he should be featured right now in his career.”

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More Moore for Mariners

The M’s have been upfront this offseason that they hope to get shortstop J.P. Crawford more breaks after he played 160 games in 2021 and 145 last year. They also signed utility player Dylan Moore to an extension last week, and while it’s been known that Moore will take over at second base regularly for two-time Gold Glove second baseman Kolten Wong against left-handed pitchers, he should also see increased time at short.

The Mariners have another utility player who hits lefties well in Sam Haggerty, so Dipoto was asked by Seattle Sports’ Mike Salk if there could be games where Moore and Haggerty make up the middle infield.

“I think that’s a very possible outcome,” Dipoto said, though he continued in a way that suggested not to expect that outcome too much.

“There’s also the potential of playing Kolten Wong versus the lefties because the defensive advantage is so great, and he will otherwise be getting some off days versus the tough lefties when D-Mo’s stepping in. So it’s probably not a hard and fast Haggerty and Moore versus lefties on the day that J.P.’s off, but I think you’ll see that combination more than a couple of times along the way. But I think the more likely outcome is that on some of those occasions where we’re just taking J.P. off his feet, Kolten will play second base, D-Mo will play shortstop, and we’ll do it based on what we think the quality of the matchup is with Kolten and that lefty.”

The Jerry Dipoto Show airs at 8:30 a.m. every Thursday morning on Seattle Sports 710 AM during Brock and Salk. You can hear the full edition from last week in the second half of the podcast at this link or in the player below.

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Dipoto: How differences for Mariners will help Kelenic, Crawford