Drayer: Mariners’ Jarred Kelenic, slowed by mild back stiffness, has unique goals for Fall League
The Arizona Fall League Fall Stars game will be played this Saturday in Scottsdale, and the Mariners will be well-represented with three players on the West squad.
The trio is No. 2 ranked prospect Julio Rodríguez, who has hit .286 with a .392 on-base percentage in 12 games, reliever Sam Delaplane, who in seven innings pitched over five appearances has allowed just one run while striking out 12, and reliever Aaron Fletcher (acquired in the Nats trade along with Taylor Guilbeau and Elvis Alvarado for Roenis Elías and Hunter Strickland), who in five relief outings has allowed no runs, walked one and struck out 10.
Not on the list for the Mariners, though, is No. 1 prospect Jarred Kelenic. He has played in just three games after getting a late start due to having his wisdom teeth extracted and, more recently, coming up with some mild back stiffness that the Mariners have said they will be very cautious with. When Kelenic does return to play, his Fall League focus might not be what you would expect it to be at the plate.
“The Arizona Fall League for me isn’t going to be really performance based,” Kelenic said while in Seattle recently to pick up his Minor League Hitter of the Year award from the Mariners. “If I go down there and hit .100 I’m not going to be upset. For me it is going to be really focusing on the mental side because it’s tough – that’s where the top dogs are at. For me it is going to be when I experience failure and stuff doesn’t go my way, I am just going to learn to turn the page and move on to the next one because at the big league level you can’t afford to dwell on stuff or you are not gong to live up here.”
While Kelenic had adversity in the form of minor injuries to deal with in his first full season of professional ball, outside of a 2 for 25 start to his season there has not been a lot of failure. Kelenic earned not one but two promotions in 2019, starting at Low-A West Virginia and finishing at Double-A Arkansas, an impressive feat that he was far from bowled over about.
“It was a heck of a season but at the same time that’s what I expect of myself,” he said. “I had goals set out that I was going to have a 20/20 season (20 home runs, 20 steals) before the year even started. For me that is what I expected out of myself and next year is going to be different.”
How different? Kelenic has goals and he is not shy about sharing them.
“I’m really focusing on coming into spring training looking like I did last spring training and going out and playing as hard as I can,” he said. “At some point I want to be in the big leagues next year. Obviously it’s not up to me but at the same time all I can control is going out and playing as hard as I can every day and the rest will take care of itself.”
It is not often you hear a player say his expectation is to make the big leagues in his 20-year-old season, but Kelenic set the goal early and has not wavered in his belief that he would one day land on a big league field. When a middle school counselor handed back his “What do you want to be when you grow up?” essay, telling him that as much as she wanted him to be a ball player that his chances were slim, Kelenic wasn’t having any of it.
“I slid the paper back to her and told her you better look at it again because it’s not coming off,” he said. “I’ve told people ever since I was young I was going to be a pro baseball player. When I have my mind set on something I never shy away from it. Just like I’m going to be a big leaguer some day, whether that’s next year or the year after, it’s something that’s going to happen. Whether it is a day or a 15-year career, I’m going to be a big leaguer.”
Kelenic feels he got what he needed to in his first full season. At Low-A he found it was about getting accustomed to pro ball. With High-A Modesto, he saw more off-speed pitching and had to get more disciplined at the plate. Double-A brought pitchers who threw harder and could execute better, necessitating Kelenic tightening up his strike zone.
When the back stiffness is behind him, Fall League play and the remainder of his offseason will be about getting ready both physically and mentally for the season he hopes to break through.
“It gives me chills to know that this is where you want to be,” he said while staring out at the field at T-Mobile Park. “This is where every kid wants to be playing with the best guys in the world.”