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Unfortunately, offensive woes plaguing Kelenic throughout last season followed him into 2022. As a result, the Mariners mercifully reassigned him to Class-AAA Tacoma late last week. The club’s reasoning for the move was straightforward. A mental reset would benefit the youngster’s long-term development.
For a segment of exacerbated Mariners fans, the Kelenic situation is a major letdown. One that may never resolve itself. Perhaps this cynicism is more about Seattle’s decades-long history of whiffing on position player prospects than what Kelenic has failed to achieve thus far. Regardless of what is driving the despair, it is entirely too early to pass judgement on the future of a 22-year-old with 123 games in the majors.
Fun fact: Jarred Kelenic was born on July 16, 1999. The day after the first-ever regular season MLB game was played at Safeco Field (now T-Mobile Park).
Consider this tidbit. Last season, 265 players made their MLB debut – just five were younger than Kelenic. Even now, only 11 of the 105 individuals comprising the freshman class of 2022 were born after the sixth overall pick of the 2018 draft. The youngest of the group is Seattle’s 21-year-old center fielder, Julio Rodríguez.
Okay, I know what some of you are thinking. There are recognizable position players throughout MLB, who thrived before reaching Kelenic’s current age. A few did so as teenagers. This is true. Some of the best and most exciting players in MLB were well on their way to stardom by the time they turned 22-years-old.
Stars By Age-22
Mike Trout (19)
Bryce Harper (19)
Manny Machado (19)
Juan Soto (19)
Freddie Freeman (20)
Wander Franco (20)
Ronald Acuña Jr. (20)
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (20)
Fernando Tatis Jr. (20)
Jason Heyward (20)
Carlos Correa (20)
Francisco Lindor (20)
Mookie Betts (21)
Christian Yelich (21)
Cody Bellinger (21)
Gleyber Torres (21)
Eloy Jiménez (22)
Yordan Álvarez (22)
Perhaps seeing these success stories playing for other organizations has elevated expectations for Kelenic and other Mariners prospects to unrealistic heights in the Emerald City. Sure, every fan base wants the next Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Juan Soto, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., or Fernando Tatis Jr. on their team. But the oft-used phrase “development is not linear” was coined for a reason. Some prospects simply take longer to mature than others from a physical and emotional standpoint.
Maturity is typically a byproduct of experience with overcoming failure often times being an important lesson learned along the way. When a player does not encounter professional adversity until reaching the majors, the potential exists he will struggle in a big way. When this happens, more time in the minor leagues is usually prescribed. That certainly appears to be the case with Kelenic.
When it comes to experience, Kelenic’s professional résumé was less complete at the time of his MLB debut than all but one of the names previously mentioned – Bryce Harper. This is a reality I suspect some frustrated Mariners fans, and even a few media members, tend to overlook when considering the Waukesha West High School product’s current predicament.
To highlight Kelenic’s relative experience prior to debuting in the majors, I compared his pre-MLB playing time to notable players also signed out of high school. The majority are former MVP winners or perennial candidates to take the hardware home.
Pro Games Prior to MLB Debut
Bryce Harper (164)
Jarred Kelenic (182)
Manny Machado (219)
Mike Trout (250)
Mookie Betts (292)
Carlos Correa (305)
Christian Yelich (327)
Cody Bellinger (381)
Freddie Freeman (436)
Nolan Arenado (461)
Matt Olson (597)
Joey Votto (729)
Realistically, Kelenic needs more time to reach his full potential – whatever that is. Perhaps this means spending the rest of 2022 in the minors. As unpalatable as that option may sound to some Mariners fans, remaining patient should lead to the best version of the Wisconsin native eventually emerging.
Remember, development is not linear.
Recognizing this reality, Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill often compares Kelenic to Houston Astros right fielder Kyle Tucker, who was the fifth overall pick of the 2015 draft. Tucker first debuted as a 21-year-old in 2018 and stumbled through two abbreviated seasons posting a combined .141 AVG and four home runs in 50 games. The player drafted out of Tampa’s H. B. Plant High School eventually went on to enjoy a breakout campaign in 2021.
Then again, it is possible Kelenic’s journey to regular playing time takes even longer than Tucker’s did. Consider the route taken by New York Mets center fielder Brandon Nimmo. Like Kelenic, Nimmo was an early first rounder drafted out of a high school located in a state also known for its long winters and short baseball seasons – Wyoming. He debuted at 23, but did not become an everyday player for the Mets until his age-25 season in 2018. Now, Nimmo is a key contributor to New York’s lineup.
As with the other players previously mentioned, Tucker (403 games) and Nimmo (503 games) had considerably more professional experience prior to debuting in the majors than Kelenic possesses today. Yet, both players returned to the minor leagues multiple times before sticking with their respective big-league clubs for good. Perhaps Kelenic takes a similar route before becoming a full-time Mariner.
Again, I know that will not sit well with the impatient Mariners fan, who believes Kelenic and fellow youngsters Julio Rodríguez and George Kirby are pivotal to the team’s chances of making the postseason in 2022. To that fan, I have a question. Does relying on unproven talent sound like a shrewd roster-building strategy?
The answer is no.
Early indications suggest Rodríguez and Kirby can be valuable contributors right now. But Seattle’s flawed roster entering the season is not the fault of Kelenic or another scuffling rookie position player – Cal Raleigh. Realistically, if this team does not meaningfully contend in 2022, the blame lays elsewhere and not with first- and second-year players.
For fans concerned with Kelenic wearing his emotions on his sleeve, I suggest giving the kid some slack. Harper had a reputation for being intense as a young player. His demeanor eventually cooled to a more sustainable level. And who can forget Seattle fan-favorite Paul O’Neill and his many pitched battles with Gatorade jugs and other inanimate dugout objects? Despite being emotionally-charged individuals, both Harper and O’Neill produced distinguished careers.
Perhaps other fans were put off by Kelenic’s comments to Bob Nightengale of USA Today in February 2021 when he ripped Seattle’s handling of his development and contract offers received from the team. In the same sit-down, Kelenic suggested he could help the 2020 club reach the postseason. All things considered; those words ring hollow now.
Then again, Kelenic was just 21 when he talked to Nightengale. How many of us were making our best decisions and most insightful remarks at that age?
None of us.
Jarred Kelenic is not much different than we were at 22-years-old. Sure, he is a much more talented baseball player than any of us could ever dream to be. But Kelenic has much to learn, as we all did at that age. Sometimes, youth and inexperience make life’s lessons harsher than they need to be. We have all been there, done that.
Whether Kelenic develops into the All-Star so many prospect analysts projected he would be or he evolves into something completely different is a matter time will determine. In the interim, I am rooting for the kid to be the best version of himself.
That seems like something we all could agree upon.
My Oh My…
Luke is a native New Yorker, who grew up as a Mets fan. After the US Navy moved him to the Pacific Northwest in 2009, he decided to make Seattle his home.
In 2014, Luke joined the Prospect Insider team. During baseball season, he can often be found observing the local team at T-Mobile Park.
You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins