Is torrid spring by Mariners’ Jarred Kelenic for real? Why it may be

Mar 5, 2023, 1:54 PM
Mariners Jarred Kelenic...
Mariners OF Jarred Kelenic reacts after hitting a solo home run against the Cubs on March 1, 2023. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)
(Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

On Sunday afternoon, in his sixth game of Cactus League play, Mariners outfielder Jarred Kelenic once again did something he’s done more than any player in a Seattle uniform so far this spring.

He homered.

MLB pitchers adjusting to quick pace of new pitch clock

This was no ho-hum wall-scraper against a pitcher just trying to make a squad, either. It was a prodigious blast against Milwaukee Brewers reliever Devin Williams, an All-Star last season and the 2020 National League Rookie of the Year, clearing the batter’s eye in center field at American Family Fields of Phoenix.

Kelenic’s fourth homer of the spring had something in common with the three others that came before it, too, which is that it went a direction other than being pulled to right field by the lefty-swinging Kelenic. His first two, which came in the same game, went similarly to center/right-center, while the other one was an opposite-field shot (off a southpaw pitcher, no less).

All eyes have been on Kelenic this offseason, as his spot in left field is essentially the least settled in the Mariners’ starting lineup for 2023 due to the fact that he has yet to find sustained success in the big leagues over the past two seasons. But something about what the 23-year-old Wisconsin native is doing this spring – which is slash at a .412/.412/1.118 clip for a 1.530 OPS in a team-high 17 plate appearances – seems different.

Is it worth buying into, though?

During MLB Network insider Jon Morosi‘s weekly conversation with Seattle Sports’ Wyman and Bob last Wednesday, he shared why what Kelenic is showing on the field resonates with him as legitimate.

“Is there anything in spring that you see that you don’t discount as just spring that you do put more value on?” asked Bob Stelton to Morosi.

Responded Morosi: “I think what’s happening with Kelenic fits into that category, (and) I’m willing to believe a little bit.”

Changes helping Kelenic

There are a few things at play that have Morosi thinking Kelenic’s spring success can translate to the regular season. One is a change he made himself, while the other is a change MLB has made to its rules.

“A couple things I noticed: No. 1, he looks to me to be more balanced and quieter at the plate,” Morosi said. “The other part is, and (former Mariners player and current MLB Network analyst) Harold Reynolds made this point (Wednesday) morning on MLB Network (when) were talking about (Phillies reliever) Craig Kimbrel… so you’ve got a veteran pitcher versus a young hitter. But the point that Harold made about Kimbrel as we were talking about Craig’s early (spring) success was, ‘I think that for him, just getting the ball and going and staying in rhythm will work to his benefit.’ I think the same is true for Kelenic.”

What Morosi was alluding to is MLB’s new pitch clock, which is rapidly speeding up games in general and plate appearances specifically. For someone like Kelenic who has perhaps struggled with the mental side of things, the less time he has to dwell on things is likely positive.

“I think that the less time he spends thinking and analyzing and reflecting in between pitches, the better he’s going to play,” Morosi said. “When he just lets his natural talent take over, you’ve seen it. He basically hit two carbon copy shots to center and right center (on Feb. 26) that, really, he just handled well. It did not look like he had to stress or strain to hit the ball out of the ballpark. He just put together a really good swing twice, and the ball went.”

Dipoto on Kelenic: Mariners “couldn’t be more optimistic” about changes

Kelenic is also displaying a different approach at the plate, which is focusing on hitting the ball up to the middle and to left field, which Morosi believes is already paying off.

“If he just keeps that approach – and (Mariners manager) Scott Servais talked about this – up the middle, left-center field, those are the kinds of adjustments that for me endure. So I think this is the time of year where you have to go, yeah, the numbers are helpful, but go with the eyeball test. Is he really quieter and more confident at the plate? And in the case of Kelenic right now, I truly believe the answer is yes.”

To hear more from Morosi, including why Kelenic seems “the most settled he’s ever been,” listen to his full Wyman and Bob conversation in the podcast at this link or in the player below.

More Mariners spring training coverage

Drayer’s Notebook: M’s sloppy in Kirby’s first start; injury updates
Dipoto: Two top Mariners pitching prospects are turning heads at camp
Drayer’s Notebook: Gonzales and Murphy show adjustments, White’s status
Breaking down top M’s prospects with MLB Pipeline’s Jonathan Mayo
Fann: Six Mariners who have improved odds of making opening day roster

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