MIKE SALK

Salk: With Kelenic raking, there’s one thing Mariners shouldn’t do

Apr 13, 2023, 12:28 AM

Seattle Mariners Jarred Kelenic...

Mariners LF Jarred Kelenic rounds third after his April 12, 2023 homer against the Cubs. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)

(Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)

Jarred Kelenic is a monster. For the last week or so, we’ve seen what that looks like on a baseball field as he terrorizes the Seattle Mariners’ opposing pitchers.

Seattle Mariners Check-In: Who’s hot, who’s not through two weeks

The quality at-bats, the .351 batting average and 1.118 OPS. The crazy exit velocity as he squares up more mistakes. The ability to go the other way – and do it with authority.

And yes, the massive power. Which was your favorite of the three home runs he hit in legendary Wrigley Field this week?

Did you like the clutch, game-tying ninth inning pulverization on Monday night?

The opposite-field bomb on Tuesday that carried into the concession area?

Or the 482-foot monster to straightaway center that became the longest Mariners home run of the Statcast era?

There’s no wrong choice. He offered a little something for everyone.

Yes, Jarred Kelenic is a monster. And this is the best interpretation of that phrase. Because for the last two years, it’s meant something far worse. He’s been a monster alright, but one who terrorizes his own mind rather than the ones who stand 60 feet, 6 inches away.

That’s what led so many Mariners fans to give up. I don’t really blame them. They had seen Jeremy Reed, Dustin Ackley, Jeff Clement and so many other highly-touted prospects get to the big leagues and disappoint. They had seen Kelenic make constant swing changes, turn to various coaches and mentors, claim various corners turned but still with the same underwhelming results. Many were done with him.

But Kelenic has an advantage: he made his debut at age 21, two years earlier than all three of those aforementioned disasters. He is now essentially the same age that each of them were in their rookie seasons.

Yet comment boards, Twitter replies, Reddit threads and texts to our show are littered with definitive statements from Seattle Mariners fans declaring they’re done with Kelenic.

“Bust.”

“Trade bait.”

“They need to be rid of him!”

You know the drill.

And while two hot weeks to start a season doesn’t guarantee any long-lasting success, it is a very helpful reminder that this is a young player with enormous potential. That he was rated above Julio Rodríguez when they both prospects for a reason. And that he is now at the age most big prospects make their major league debut.

I couldn’t be happier to see the Mariners rewarded for their faith and patience with Kelenic, and I’m genuinely pleased to see his smile as he demonstrates the potential he knew he had but was unable to summon when it counted.

If this continues, there will be a temptation to rely on him to do more and more. Some will want to see him in the everyday lineup, regardless of the pitching matchup. Others will want him moved up in the batting order to get him an extra plate appearance or to put him in a position to drive in more runs.

I hope the team avoids this inclination.

Baseball is complex. Much of it is physical, but so much more goes on in the brain. Confidence is key. Preparation is paramount. And matchups matter.

If I’m Mariners manager Scott Servais, I want to make sure Kelenic’s confidence remains as high as possible. To accomplish that, I would be making sure he continues to face as many right-handers as possible, and I would limit his exposure to lefties – especially the tough ones.

There will be some days where the lineup doesn’t look as strong as it could. But if he struggles against left-handed pitching, it could break that confidence and you could be risking the incredible production against most of the league.

I’m also keeping him in the bottom half of the lineup. I know the importance of batting order has been largely panned by the analytics community. The modern philosophy is to just have your best hitters at the top. I’m disputing that view. Players have real feelings and real reactions. A bump in the order comes with increased expectations, and that can lead to increased pressure. Kelenic already puts enough pressure on himself! The last thing he needs is for that to ratchet up another notch.

Also, pitchers tend to approach hitters differently at the top versus the bottom of the order. I remember a light-hitting shortstop once telling me that he had no idea what it was really like to hit against Félix Hernández because Félix would never bother throwing him his best stuff. He wouldn’t waste it on a guy at the bottom of the order. That may be more of an old school approach, but why take any chances?

For the first time, we are seeing Jarred Kelenic show off his entire skillset. He has shown all five tools: hitting for average, power, speed, defense and arm. So far, he’s added back in the ability to take pitches and has shown a much better eye. If that continues, he’ll eventually be ready to take the next step and help the team in even more ways. But for now, I hope the Mariners recognize that the role he’s in is allowing him to maximize his production rather than holding him back. If they can continue to show that patience, they could be getting the full package they hoped for when they made him the centerpiece of Jerry Dipoto’s biggest trade.

Right now, it’s just fun to watch a monster at work.

More on the Seattle Mariners

Fann: Fan frustrations over Seattle Mariners’ offense are deep-rooted
Good News, Bad News, No News: Early-season Mariners edition
Seattle Mariners Moves: Andrés Muñoz to IL, Festa optioned in ‘pen shakeup

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Salk: With Kelenic raking, there’s one thing Mariners shouldn’t do