On Monday, the Seattle Mariners announced that top prospect Jarred Kelenic would get called up and make his major league debut in Thursday’s series opener against the Cleveland Indians at T-Mobile Park. Kelenic, the subject of some spring training controversy when former Mariners CEO, Kevin Mather, was caught on video admitting to service time manipulation in the case of Kelenic and other top prospects, has been tearing up AAA in just a few short games.
Through five games and 22 AB in the delayed start to minor league baseball due to COVID, Kelenic was hitting .409/.458/.682 for a 1.140 OPS with 2 HR and 2S B. The 21-year-old 6th pick in the 2018 draft by the NY Mets is nearly six years younger than his competition in the yet to be renamed Pacific League and, while the sample size is minimal, the Mariners clearly feel it is time to accelerate the rebuild at the major league level and try to make up the lost COVID season in the young outfielder’s development.
Kelenic was acquired from the Mets in a 2019 trade that sent Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to Queens. Since the trade, Cano has played 156 games, hitting .275/.321/.463 with 23 HR and a slightly above average OPS+ of 108. He is currently serving a full-season suspension for a second violation of the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy. Diaz, who led the majors with 57 saves in his last season with the M’s, has 37 saves total in two-plus years with the Mets and has pitched to a 4.167 ERA. Cano has declined with age. Diaz regressed to the mean after an outlier 2018 season. And Mets fans have continued to weep and gnash teeth over the apparent lopsided nature of the deal, with the lovable losers on the short end of the stick.
Coming into the season, Fangraphs ranked Kelenic as the fourth-best prospect in all of baseball. On the 20 to 80 scale, his hit tool and game power all project 60 with future value at 60, essentially an all-star level player. Given that he only has 116 PA above A ball, Kelenic may struggle early, and Mariners fans should be patient.
But Mariners fans who are old enough to remember the excitement of a 19-year-old outfield prospect making his major league debut in 1999 should get excited again. That kid hit .264/.366/.481 in 127 games with 16 HR and 16 SB while playing plus centerfield. Kelenic should meet those benchmarks in his rookie season, with reasonable adjustments to BA and OBP given the stingier hitting environment. The question of whether he hits 630 career HR and becomes a first-ballot Hall of Famer won’t be answered for another 20 years or so. There’s only one Ken Griffey, Jr., but Mariners fans are hoping that the debut of Jarred Kelenic is a tiding of good things to come.