Mariners: Hope springs eternal with Jarred Kelenic

Jarred Kelenic is tearing it up with the bat in spring training, but is this the year he finally provides consistent offense for the Mariners at the Major League level?

As we wrote earlier this week, durability and availability will play a significant role in how this year plays out for the Mariners. Another key will be what version of Jarred Kelenic turns up to play.

Everyone knows Kelenic has all the tools required to succeed at the very highest level. It’s why he was considered one of the top prospects in all of baseball heading into the 2018 draft.

However, it won’t mean a thing if the 23-year-old doesn’t overcome whatever mental block he may have. You can an excellent work ethic and all the talent in the world, but it’s often what’s going on between the ears which determines if you make it in the Majors.

In fairness to Kelenic, his defense is just fine. Yes he can still improve in this area, but he has already shown he is more than capable of manning a spot in the outfield.

It’s the offense which needs the most work for the left-handed bat, who was bad enough in his debut Major League season. He was even worse last year, highlighted by a poor slash line of .141/.221/.313.

Not helping Kelenic’s challenges with the bat, was seeing fellow top prospect Julio Rodriguez burst onto the scene last year. While Rodriguez calmly coped well with any struggles, his teammate pushed even more, resulting in increased pressure on himself.

Tweaking with his swing

During the offseason, Kelenic made a point of refocusing and making some changes to his swing, in order to improve. Speaking to the media ahead of Cactus League play, he said:

“I’ve put in some workouts here (in Arizona), worked with some good coaches and learned a lot this offseason … hopefully you’ll notice more productivity. It’s pretty natural now, as I’ve been working on (the new swing) for so long.”

Kelenic was asked if his swing was something he assessed, or did he ask coaches to advise him on what he could do differently. He said:

“I needed to get better. I’m pretty black and white. It wasn’t working, so I had to make an adjustment. I worked with great coaches, so made the adjustment and continued to get better throughout the offseason.”

So far the results have been impressive in Cactus League play. After two weeks, Kelenic leads the Mariners in hits, runs and home runs.

The Waukesha, Wisconsin native is also tied for the team lead in RBIs, He has a slash line of .368/.400/1.000 and an OPS of 1.400.

Understandably though, the success is been viewed cautiously at this stage. Consider that Kelenic also enjoyed excellent offensive results in the previous two years of spring training, but this didn’t translate to the Majors.

Renewed hope for the Mariners

However, there is reason to have more belief this year, based in part due to the new pitch clock. With less time to think, the 2018 sixth overall draft pick is now relying more on his natural instincts.

If nothing else, Kelenic should also be given more time to prove himself in the Majors, due to Taylor Trammell’s unfortunate injury. The original plan was to platoon both players in the left outfield (along with AJ Pollock), but Trammell will now not return until an undetermined point in April.

The Mariners and their fans alike will be hoping Kelenic’s focus on his bat will bring success similar to what he achieved previously with his defense. Speaking about his improved outfield play last year, he said:

“Being on outfielder, you can kind of get away with some things when you’re athletic. But I wanted to take it a step further and really hone in on some things. I know I have a really strong arm from the outfield, but if you have a strong arm but you can’t hit the outside of a barn, you’re useless out there. My goals was I wanted to be able to hit the guy in the chest and know that when I (throw it), it’s going to go where I want it to.

Kelenic deserves credit in general for his continued commitment to improving overall. (He also made reference to getting better at base-running, in an effort to steal more bags for the team.)

It’s been a tough couple of years for the former New York Met draft pick, who had previously only known success. However, it’s entirely possible being humbled in the Majors will ultimately result in him being a more well-rounded and mentally resilient player.

Still confident

From Kelenic’s perspective, he remains convinced he will succeed at the highest level. He said:

“I don’t look at my inconsistencies in the big leagues as a lack of ability. I look at it as a lack of information that I had. This (past) offseason I certainly learned a lot. I had a lot of opportunities to learn from a lot of great people and now that I have more information that I would like, I can now go out and apply what I’ve learned. I think you’re going to see a lot more success this year and we’re going to win a lot more games.”

Mariners fans certainly hope Kelenic is right and the early signs are indeed promising. As previously though, it won’t mean a thing if he doesn’t perform more consistently with his bat when the real action begins.

What’s your prediction/expectation for Kelenic this year? Will he struggle one again in the regular season, or finally succeed for the Mariners? Let us know in the comments section below.

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