Jarred Kelenic eager to change narrative after trade to Braves

Dec 13, 2023, 1:05 PM

Seattle Mariners Jarred Kelenic...

Jarred Kelenic of the Seattle Mariners during a June 13, 2023 game. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

ATLANTA (AP) — Jarred Kelenic is eager to change the narrative after his trade from the Seattle Mariners to the Atlanta Braves.

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He doesn’t want to be another prized prospect who fails to live up to lofty expectations. For sure, he doesn’t want to be remembered mostly as the guy who foolishly broke his foot kicking a water cooler in frustration.

“I’m looking forward to a fresh start,” Kelenic said Wednesday.

The 24-year-old outfielder has been the most intriguing acquisition of the offseason for the Braves, who won an MLB-leading 104 games this past season but failed to advance in the playoffs.

He’s expected to take over in left field after Atlanta declined its option on Eddie Rosario, giving the Braves another young player with huge potential in an already potent lineup led by NL MVP Ronald Acuña Jr.

“I’ve done a lot of learning the last three years, that’s for sure,” Kelenic said. “I’m looking forward to being myself and having a clean slate.”

The sixth pick by the New York Mets in the 2018 draft, Jarred Kelenic was a key piece in a blockbuster deal a few months later with the Seattle Mariners. The Mets had to give up one of baseball’s top prospects as part of a seven-player deal to acquire closer Edwin Díaz and infielder Robinson Canó.

Kelenic made it to the big leagues in 2021, hitting 14 homers with 43 RBIs but posting an average of just .181. He was even worse the following year, batting .141 with seven homers and 17 RBIs in 54 games.

This past season, Kelenic finally began to live up expectations. He hit .308 with seven homers and 14 RBIs over the first month of the season, carving out a regular spot in the Mariners lineup.

But his average dipped as the summer went along. The hits were fewer and farther in between. Having gone more than a month without a homer, his frustration finally boiled over after a ninth-inning strikeout during a July 19 loss to Minnesota.

Kelenic delivered a kick to that infamous water cooler and wound up with a broken bone in his left foot. While sidelined for nearly two months, he realized that his mindset had to change.

“I had to step back to look at what I’m doing,” Kelenic remembered thinking to himself. “I’m not happy. I’m way too frustrated. I’m letting my emotions get the best of me. I’m not even enjoying the game. I had to take a step back and realize how lucky and thankful I am to be in the position I am in. Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to play in the big leagues, and here I am. I’m in the big leagues and I break my foot out of frustration. That just can’t happen.”

Kelenic returned to the Mariners for the final three weeks of the season, but the team missed out on a playoff berth by a single game. He finished with 11 homers, 43 RBIs, 13 stolen bases and a .253 average — still a far cry from what was expected of him after being quickly hailed as a future star.

When Seattle decided to shed payroll, they were willing to give up Kelenic as part of a five-player trade with Atlanta.

The Braves are eager to see what he can do on a team where he won’t be the center of attention. They won their sixth straight NL East title with a fearsome lineup that matched the big league record with 307 homers, and barring further moves Rosario is the only starter from that group who won’t be returning in 2024.

Acuña had an unprecedented season with 41 homers and 73 stolen bases, Matt Olson slugged a franchise-record 54 homers, Marcell Ozuna went deep 40 times, while Ozzie Albies and Austin Riley both surpassed 30 homers. Four players piled up 100 RBIs, and Riley just missed out with 97.

The left-handed-hitting Kelenic will likely hit toward the bottom of the order, and could even find himself in a platoon situation if Vaughn Grissom shows he’s capable of playing the outfield.

Grissom is coming off a stellar season offensively at Triple-A, but he’s struggled defensively at shortstop, so the Braves sent him to the Puerto Rican winter league to learn a new position.

No matter his role, Kelenic is thrilled to be with a group of players who’ve had so much success, including a World Series championship in 2021.

“I’m fired up,” he said. “I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to be their teammate.”

The Braves can afford to be patient with Kelenic, who isn’t eligible for free agency until 2029. In that sense, he fits right in to a team that has much of his young core under long-term deals.

“I still believe in the ability I have,” Kelenic said. “I know what I’m capable of doing.”

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