Year after year, we remain hopeful that the next top prospect will be the next best player in Major League Baseball. As we continue to progress into the new era of baseball, stars are becoming younger and younger. At 22 years old, Jarred Kelenic is someone we have been quick to dismiss after a slow start to his Major League career.
Young phenoms broke onto the scene at a very young age. Players like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Manny Machado all debuted at the age of 19. Wander Franco, Ronald Acuña Jr., Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Fernando Tatis Jr. all by the age of 20.
Who is Jarred Kelenic?
The 2018 first-round pick by the New York Mets was selected sixth overall out of Waukesha West High School.
In December of 2018, Kelenic was the headliner in a return for Seattle in a trade that sent Robinson Canó and Edwin Díaz to the Big Apple. After the trade to Seattle, Kelenic continued to show the flashes that held him so high in prospect rankings. In 2019, between three different levels, he slashed .291/.364/.540 with 23 home runs, 68 RBIs, and 20 stolen bases over 117 games.
The progressions that he was making prompted the Mariners to make multiple attempts to lock him up to a long-term extension even before he made his pro debut. While some fans may seem to believe the Marines dodged a bullet there, there’s a reason they wanted to do so. Kelenic is a talented player that is slowly working his way through the struggles of being a professional baseball player.
What is Happening?
Seeing the success stories from the debuts of other young stars across the league elevated expectations for the young outfielder that might have been unrealistic. Many use the phrase “development is not linear” and it is true. Not every prospect develops at the same rate as much as fan bases may want them to.
It's instructive to remember that Kelenic is 22 and didn't have a 2020 season and was called up after six AAA games in 2021.
Guessing his baseball career is far from finished.
— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) May 13, 2022
Kelenic’s experience in professional baseball is not extensive. Before his debut, he only had 182 games of professional ball played, second-fewest behind Harper’s 164. For every quick accession, there are stories of other prospects that weren’t so lucky when they first arrived. Kyle Tucker went through his fair share of struggles in his debut even after tearing through the minor leagues.
After a strong finish to 2021, Kelenic has not been able to carry that success over into the new season. After slashing .140/.210/.291 with a 37.5% strikeout rate over 30 games, the Mariners decided it was best to send Kelenic back to Triple-A Tacoma to work through his struggles. President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto has recently said “It’s gonna take time” and that his return to the majors will be based on his performance.
Nothing has gone right for Jarred thus far. With an average exit velocity of 84.5 MPH, ranking in the 4th percentile of the league, and a .155 xBA, it seems like there is a lot for Kelenic to figure out before he can be an impactful player for the Mariners this season. One thing to look at is the consistency in the barrel rate through his two seasons. After posing a 9.9% barrel% in 2021, he was able to produce at almost the same rate in his time this year at 9.8%
Off-speed and breaking pitches seem to be his kryptonite. Hitting a cool .067 against both pitches and whiffing at both with a 56.4% and 46.8% mark respectively, I guess you can say he is indeed having trouble with the curve… and the changeup… and the slider.
Kelenic has only been able to make contact with 72.6% of pitches he swings at in the zone. When making contact, it is not generating enough impact to produce positive results. In his time with the big league club, he was only producing a 27.5 HardHit%. The one positive you could take out of it is that he wasn’t “pull happy” as shown by his 33.3% pull%, 43.1% of hits in the middle of the field, and the 23.5% to the opposite side. An elevated FB% near 50% is where the issues are coming from.
Jarred Kelenic RBI double to LF for his 3rd hit. 3-4, 2 2B, 2RBI, BB, K. pic.twitter.com/BA2YLCkMY3
— Mariners Minors (@MiLBMariners) May 22, 2022
The ability to hit at the level Kelenic has the potential to does not just disappear.
Jarred Kelenic crushes a solo HR! 5-0 Rainiers. pic.twitter.com/8WO3Ts8LAW
— Mariners Minors (@MiLBMariners) May 20, 2022
Going back to the scouting report on Kelenic when he was rapidly climbing through the minors, Kelenic has always been known for his short approach to the ball and the ability to generate impressive bat speed through the zone. His stance was labeled as “sound”, meaning there was not much movement to it. That coincides with his ability to keep his weight back and drive the ball hard to all fields. The consistency throughout each report was his susceptibility to breaking balls from both left- and right-handed pitchers.
Each one of his tools was also rated above average, per the 20-80 scouting scale, across the board. It was highlighted by the 70-grade hit tool that many labeled him as having.
When discussing a player’s pace over a specific sample size, it might not carry much weight to some. However, if you were to extrapolate Kelenic’s numbers over 650 plate appearances, the Mariner outfield would be on pace for 23 home runs.
Since the Demotion
Since Kelenic was sent down to AAA-Tacoma, he is hitting .222/.276/.407 with one HR over six games. The concern is the strike-out percentage at 51.7%. The struggles affect things off the field as well.
In the days leading up to his demotion, Dipoto stated that he noticed Kelenic’s confidence level being impacted heavily by his inability to perform to the expectations that everyone has placed on him, including his own. The move to AAA wasn’t just for him to fix his swing.
The mental side of the game is real. Kelenic is now at the point where he needs to find himself again.
It’s Not Time to Give Up
Jarred Kelenic is a 22-year-old with immense potential. While potential can only carry you so far, his skill set has not diminished.
A shift in approach, proper time allotted for him to hone back into his craft, and patience are what Kelenic needs to get him back to the former top prospect status he had before his debut in 2021. While it might not be as quick as Mariner fans hope for, Kelenic will be back. Brighter days are ahead.
Photo by Kiyoshi Mio/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)
Brighter days may be ahead, but do you think it happens this year? He looks lost now and his AAA results so far haven’t been very inspiring. I realize it is a small sample, but the K issue getting worse in the minors is noteworthy. It seems like he is far away and heading in the wrong direction.
While it may not happen this year, he’s still very young. Even if he was to stay in AAA this year, he’d still be only 23 next year. I do believe he will be fine.
My observations on Kelenic this year are that:
1. He’s fouling off fastballs that he would normally hit.
2. He’s looked down right silly missing offspeed stuff by miles.
3. He doesn’t seem to change his approach at the plate with two strikes. Why not shorten up when you are having so many contact problems.