Late last week, the Seattle Mariners made a series of roster moves, including assigning top prospect, Jarred Kelenic being re-assigned to the minors, more than likely AAA in Tacoma. Given that AAA will see a delayed start to the season, the 21-year-old outfielder will continue extended Spring Training in Arizona.
This particular roster move by the Mariners is only magnified by the comments made by now-former president Kevin Mather about intentionally manipulating service time for the most promising prospects in the organization, specifically Kelenic and his future outfield mate, Julio Rodriguez. Mather was captured on a Zoom call with the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club that was then posted on YouTube saying, “If our major-league team had a COVID outbreak or injuries and we had to call people up from the taxi squad, we were a little short on players, because there was no chance you were going to see these young players at T-Mobile Park,” Mather soon resigned after the video call was released.
Kelenic was obviously upset by the revelation stating, “This should be an exciting time for baseball. We had such a negative year with COVID and everything shutting down. This is what we’ve been waiting for. Now, the day before spring training, this is what I have to deal with.” He went on to theorize that the team was angry with him for not taking a discounted contract extension and said that he was being “punished.” So, being left off the 40-man roster and assigned to the minors would seem to confirm this suspicion. But is that the only plausible explanation?
Coming into 2021, Kelenic has had a total of 92 PA above A ball. In 2019, Kelenic played in 21 games for the Arkansas Travelers and hit .253/.315/.542 with 6 HR. Excellent numbers. Promising numbers. But not a very significant sample size. Is It totally unreasonable that the Mariners would like for their top prospect to see a little more pitching at AA or AAA before making the jump to the majors?
On the other hand, it is reasonable to assume Kelenic might be ready now. In his short appearance in AA in 2019, Kelenic was 4.8 years younger than his average competition. Two of the most notable Mariners of lore made their big-league debuts at precociously tender ages. Legend Ken Griffey, Jr. made his Mariners’ debut at age 19 way back in 1989, and Alex Rodriguez played in both the 1994 and 1995 seasons at age 18 and 19 before becoming a regular and an All-Star in 1996 at 20.
The ball club would have argued essentially – what’s the rush? The Fangraphs’ projection system has the Mariners going 74-88 in 2021. There’s minimal upside to rushing any of their prospects to the majors, much less Kelenic. Remember the 2012 number three overall pick that the Mariners rushed to the majors at age 22? In his first full season, that prospect hit .199/.254/.404, granted, he was a catcher. You remember Mike Zunino.
Now Kelenic isn’t Zunino, and he’ll be fine when he gets to the majors around May if everything goes according to plan. It’s frustrating to Mariners fans, and there probably is a hint of truth to the team wanting control of Kelenic for an extra year. But two things can be true at the same time. In the meantime, enjoy the sunshine in Arizona, Jarred Kelenic.