Fann: Diving into breakout for Kelenic, and what it means for Mariners

Apr 13, 2023, 3:20 PM

Seattle Mariners Jarred Kelenic...

Jarred Kelenic celebrates his home run with Mariners teammates on April 10, 2023 in Chicago. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Throughout the offseason, Jerry Dipoto discussed “the crest” of payroll expenses in the coming years when the Seattle Mariners’ young stars will be in need of new contracts. That list included Cal Raleigh, Logan Gilbert and George Kirby. And quite frankly, those three players could be given big extensions immediately, and those deals would be universally celebrated.

Now it appears Jarred Kelenic is poised to add his name to that list. He’s been tearing the cover off the baseball with a sizzling .351 average and three home runs. Kelenic’s emergence has been the top source of optimism amid Seattle’s otherwise suboptimal 5-8 start.

His home runs were a trio of prolific blasts at Wrigley Field, the last of the three being a gargantuan 482-foot moonshot to center field. Per Statcast, it was the second-longest homer at Wrigley Field during the Statcast era that began in 2015 (ranking behind only a 491-foot blast by Willson Contreras). It was also the longest home run by a Mariner in the era, passing Mike Zunino’s 470-foot nuke in September 2017. That swing from Kelenic was just the 38th home run since 2015 to travel at least 482 feet.

“He’s in such a different place than in the past couple years. He’s matured quite a bit in his approach to a baseball game,” Dipoto told Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk on Thursday morning.

Seattle’s president of baseball operations lauded Kelenic’s performance during Tuesday’s game against the Cubs in which he went 2 for 3 with a home run but also battled through at-bats, saw pitches and drew a pair of walks.

“His approach in the box is as consistent as anyone we’ve had since Day 1,” Dipoto said. “I’m thrilled for him and for us that he’s seeing some returns on that. I can’t say enough about where he’s at in terms of playing.”

Kelenic’s tear began prior to arriving in Chicago. He’d logged a hit in his four straight starts prior and is now riding a seven-game hitting streak. His impressive .351 average and .415 on-base percentage are backed by strong advanced metrics, too.

Kelenic’s wRC+ is an otherworldly 212 and he ranks in the 93rd percentile in average exit velocity, 90th percentile in max exit velocity, 96th percentile in hard hit percentage and 92nd percentile in barrel percentage.

Maybe most impressive of all is he ranks in the 71st percentile in chase rate, a confirmation that he’s seeing and commanding the strike zone better than ever. His chase percentage is currently a career-best 24.1%, down from 28.2% in 2022. Kelenic’s strikeout percentage is down to 26.8% from 33.7% a year ago. All of these numbers are comprehensively encouraging when trying to determine whether this breakout start can be sustained.

So yes, this turnaround feels very real. And that’s massive for a Mariners team that now possesses three All-Star-caliber outfielders along with Julio Rodríguez and Teoscar Hernández.

But here’s the rub: Kelenic’s price tag will skyrocket in correlation to his production. This conversation is a bit premature given the totality of Kelenic’s MLB career to this point, but it’s worth forecasting all the same.

He’s a former top-10 pick and top prospect for a reason given his five-tool potential and unteachable power. He also won’t turn 24 until July.

Kelenic turned down a long-term contract in 2020 and proceeded to struggle in the majors the past two seasons. Will Seattle’s brass attempt to get Kelenic’s representation back at the negotiating table at some point this season? It couldn’t hurt to try, assuming he continues to produce. So far Rodríguez is the only member of the team’s budding core of franchise cornerstones to be locked up long-term.

Kelenic seems poised to join that group, each of whom will command serious money. It would be a shame for the Mariners to not get to reap the long-term rewards from a player they exhibited patience with and helped develop over the last several years.

But that’s a tomorrow problem. For now we can enjoy watching Kelenic’s prodigious homer at Wrigley on repeat and all the other notable highlights that seem destined to follow in the near future.

More on the Seattle Mariners

What Jerry Dipoto makes of Seattle Mariners’ uneven first two weeks
Salk: With Kelenic raking, there’s one thing Seattle Mariners shouldn’t do
Bob’s Seattle Mariners Breakdown: Is the real Jarred Kelenic here?
Seattle Mariners Check-In: Who’s hot, who’s not through two weeks
Fann: Fan frustrations over Seattle Mariners’ offense deep-rooted

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