Dipoto: What Mariners are seeing from former top prospects Kelenic, White

Feb 23, 2023, 12:30 PM

Mariners Evan White...

Evan White of the Seattle Mariners reacts vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers on Aug. 18, 2020. (Harry How/Getty Images)

(Harry How/Getty Images)

Many of the Mariners’ recent top prospects have established themselves well at the big league level, such as Julio Rodríguez, George Kirby and Logan Gilbert, but two of their young hitters haven’t yet found their footing in the majors.

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They would be outfielder Jarred Kelenic, the No. 6 pick in the 2018 MLB Draft who Seattle acquired from the New York Mets early in its rebuild, and first baseman Evan White, the Mariners’ first-round pick in 2017.

During Thursday’s Jerry Dipoto Show on Seattle Sports, Dipoto shared some updates on the two former top prospects as well as thoughts on where they’re at as spring training picks up steam.

Jarred Kelenic

When asked about some of the loudest things he’s heard at spring training so far, Dipoto mentioned Rodríguez’s bat, top pitching prospect Bryce Miller’s fastball and third baseman Eugenio Suárez making his presence known every morning.

But also on the list is what Kelenic has been doing at the plate.

“He’s another one of those loud things. The ball coming off his bat right now is loud,” Dipoto said.

Kelenic made his debut in early 2021, but after hitting his first MLB home run in his second game, he struggled mightily and was demoted back to the minors. He came back up in the second half and had a great September, posting an .854 OPS with seven home runs in 29 games that month. While he finished the year strong, Kelenic hit just .181 with a high strikeout rate.

That strong showing at the end of 2021 had many thinking Kelenic was ready to breakout in 2022. Unfortunately, Kelenic bounced between MLB and Triple-A last year, hitting just .141 in 54 games with Seattle.

While a big part of Kelenic’s struggles have been mental, Dipoto likes Kelenic’s state going into this season.

“Jarred in a really good place. He’s generally been very quiet in the way he has approached it,” Dipoto said. “You see a maturity that has evolved over time. He’s carrying himself in a different way in this camp, and I think it’s in a good way. He’s evolving and maturing as a player. And really, we’ve seen him grow as a person.”

Kelenic has made adjustments this offseason, as longtime baseball reporter Tom Verducci broke down in an article recently as well as in a conversation with Seattle Sports’ Mike Salk on Tuesday.

What MLB insider Verducci learned about Kelenic and the Mariners

“The swing changes he’s made, they’re fairly evident when you’re watching his swing,” Dipoto said. “It’s not one of those where you look and say, ‘Boy, it’s hard to see what changed.’ You do see a change in the bat path, particularly the angle through the zone and the finish. Right now he’s on everything he is thrown, he’s got a great routine that he’s working through in the mornings and during BP. And I’ve said for a couple of years now, the talent is so big and his work ethic is so real, I have a hard time believing that he’s not going to find success at this level, and hopefully this is that time where he breaks through.”

Evan White

White made his debut in the shortened 2020 season, and while he won a Gold Glove, he hit just .176 with a sub-.600 OPS while striking out over 40% of the time. Those struggles continued in 2021, with White reducing his K rate but still hitting just .144 in 30 games before being sidelined with a hip injury. That led to prolonged health issues, and he hasn’t played an MLB game in the time since.

Entering camp, though, White is healthy, and the defensively-gifted first baseman has been working with the outfielders, which may help him in his fight to make the MLB roster.

“That was part of the plan coming into spring training last year prior to his most recent injury,” Dipoto said of White playing outfield, “and obviously he never got off the ground much.”

While White is known for his fielding prowess at first base, he has plenty of experience in the outfield.

“Evan played a fair bit of outfield in college at the University of Kentucky,” Dipoto said. “He actually played the outfield for Team USA prior to his draft year, so it’s not foreign to him. He’s such a good athlete, and right now, he’s actually been one of the most eye-raising players in camp to this point. Evan looks 100% healthy, he checks out in the in the training room as 100% healthy.”

Dipoto said the Mariners know “the dynamic” of what White brings to the table defensively at first base, and they’re seeing his “athletic explosiveness” in the batter’s box, too.

“There’s still so much left to be told in Evan’s story,” Dipoto said. “My thought was if he can play a little left field, if he can play some first base and give himself that type of utility, whether it’s first base, left field, giving us a chance to rotate (All-Star first baseman Ty France) in for a DH day, there are so many positives about having Evan on our roster, and right now is about as optimistic as we’ve been about his progress as we’ve been in a couple of years.”

The Jerry Dipoto Show airs live at 8:30 a.m. every Thursday during Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk. Listen to this week’s edition at this link or in the player near the top of this post.

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