The Jarred Kelenic Era Begins Tonight
Well the day Mariners fans have been waiting for since December 3rd, 2018 has finally arrived. The Major League debut of Jarred Kelenic is upon us. M’s fans have been all about this kid ever since that day.
The move to acquire Kelenic was bittersweet at first. The front office sent beloved closer Edwin Diaz packing to Queens to join the New York Mets. This upset and confused many in the Pacific Northwest as Diaz was coming off an incredible season with a 1.96 ERA through 73.1 innings, 124 strikeouts and he converted 57 saves as an All-Star. However, they had to include Diaz in the trade to get rid of the massive Robinson Cano contract that was not working out as many had thought or hoped.
Once all the players involved in the trade hit the field, the tone changed. Diaz struggled in his first year with the Mets while Cano continued to see a decline in his play. The players the Mariners received were also working out. Veteran Jay Bruce provided some fun power in his short stint with the Mariners. He and Anthony Swarzak though soon moved elsewhere. Gerson Bautista never really got things going with the M’s due to some injuries but Justin Dunn has flashed some real potential in the starting rotation already. This trade was shaping up as a win for Seattle. But all eyes were on the big piece of the trade. The sixth overall pick of the 2018 MLB draft, Jarred Kelenic.
The M’s are notorious for missing when it comes to the draft. Sure, they got Adam Jones back in 2003. But he was sent to Baltimore after just 73 games with the Mariners. The Mariners had not struck gold on a first round draft pick since Alex Rodriguez in 1993. Then came Jerry Dipoto. Dipoto quickly tore down the Mariners farm system and put the team in “win-now” mode immediately. After that didn’t pan out, Dipoto quickly rebuilt the farm in Seattle and Kelenic is the star of that rebuild.
Since coming to the Mariners organization, Kelenic has immediately shown how talented of a hitter he is. The Wisconsin native used his bat to rocket himself up the Top 100 prospects list where he now sits as the #4 prospect in all of baseball. He has also brought something to Seattle that Mariners fans have not had a lot of this century. Hope.
As a Minor Leaguer, Kelenic attracted more hype than almost any Mariner in history. In fact, there are really only four that generated as much or more hype than Kelenic, Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Ichiro, and Felix Hernandez. In reality though, Kelenic has a much larger task in front of him. Many are looking at him to end a playoff drought that dates back to 2001. The last time Seattle saw the playoffs, Kelenic was 2 years old. The 21 year old is now the first of an incoming tidal wave of prospects expected to change the culture in Seattle. In the Minor Leagues so far, Kelenic has not only lived up to the hype, but has exceeded it.
Kelenic got off to a blazing start hitting .309 in Single-A and then .290 in High-A. He hit 17 home runs in just 96 games before being called up to Double A. He hit .253 with the Arkansas Travelers but only had 92 plate appearances to make adjustments, which is a very tall task. Some Mariner skeptics were concerned about the low average. Jarred didn’t have the opportunity to silence the doubters last year though because of the cancellation of the Minor League seasons due to the Covid-19 pandemic. That meant there wasn’t going to be any games other than intrasquad games for over a year and a half for the prospect. The Mariners had to put the development on ice for the year, or so it seemed.
Behind the scenes, Kelenic put in a lot of work in 2020 and reaped the benefits immediately when the Mariners Triple A affiliate Tacoma Rainiers took the field exactly one week ago. In just six games in Triple A, Kelenic hit .370 with two homers, five RBIs and a slugging percentage of .630. Absolute dominance is how one would describe his start in 2021.
Bryce Harper. That is the name floating around as a comparison to Kelenic. Not just for the skillset, but also for the impact he could make immediately. In Harper’s rookie season, he had a line of .270/.340/.477 with 22 home runs and 59 RBIs. He also won Rookie of the Year. Those are some lofty expectations for the 21 year old. Kelenic believes he can not only live up to them, but also exceed them. In fact, he is so ready to bet on himself that he turned down a contract extension offered by the Mariners. He wants to showcase his skills before he signs any contracts.
However, it hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows for Kelenic and the Mariners. Back in February, a video showed former Mariner President and CEO Kevin Mather admitting to service-time manipulation of young players, including Kelenic. Mather wanted to keep Kelenic off the Opening Day roster as this allows the Mariners to control Kelenic longer and keep him with the team an extra year. Many players and fans spoke out against Mather’s tactics and forced Mather to resign. This worried Mariners fans that Kelenic already had one foot out the door. He quickly calmed everyone down in a tweet.
“I want to thank each and every single one of you @Mariners fans from the bottom of my heart. I’m excited to play for you and ready to win with you. Let’s do this,” Kelenic wrote.
That is all a conversation for down the road. For now, he becomes the newest piece in Jerry Dipoto’s puzzle of making the Mariners World Series contenders. We have already seen some of those pieces make it to the big leagues. Last year, Evan White came onto the scene and while he has struggled at the plate, he made MLB history becoming the first rookie first baseman to win a Gold Glove. Another major piece in the future of the organization in Kyle Lewis won Rookie of the Year unanimously in 2020 although he made his debut in late 2019. There are also plenty of guys waiting in the wings. Julio Rodriguez, George Kirby, and Emerson Hancock are taking strides in the Minors. Then there are guys like Cal Raleigh who could, and should, be making their debuts in 2021 as well. It was announced Wednesday night that fellow prospect Logan Gilbert will also make his debut tonight on the mound.
The centerpiece of it all will take the field for the first time for the Mariners tonight. This feels like a turning point for the entire franchise. Could Jarred Kelenic be the chosen one for a Mariners team so desperate to make it back to the playoffs? Only time will tell. For now, just sit back and watch the show unfold. Tonight at 7:10 against Cleveland, the curtain rises.
Matthew graduated in 2019 from Washington State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication with a specialization in Media and Journalism Production. He currently is a broadcaster and writer at Eli Sports Network. Baseball and football are his specialties but Matt covers anything he can. Follow him on Twitter @matt_king19