The real-life equation goes beyond tools grades, scouting reports and statistics, and that’s an advantage the employer of Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez has on the rest of planet Earth. The rest of us will rely on the aforementioned factors … and historical trends.
Kelenic is very good athlete, offering plus present speed and a plus arm to go with terrific instincts across the board that drive his tools toward refined skill and production on the field. He’s added a lot of physicality to his game since Draft day and it showed up in the power department in 2019.
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Kelenic came to pro ball a five-tool talent, led by an advanced hit tool despite hailing from a northern territory where baseball is a tertiary sport. He’s now performed at four levels while being young for the league each time.
Rodriguez is a solid athlete with well above-average strength and the best barrel ability in the entire Mariners farm system. He’s mature well beyond his years and already has forced an adjustment in his initial projections as a power bat.
He remains at least an average runner and moves well laterally, while showing off a plus arm.
There are a lot of similarities between Rodriguez and Kelenic in terms of physical tools, developing skills and all the upside in play. But there are three areas where I project potentially-significant differences.
In terms of raw power — raw meaning not yet shown in game play, absolute upside — Rodriguez has a full grade advantage over Kelenic. The bat speed is a tick better and the swing naturally creates leverage and loft.
Kelenic has worked to generate more leverage and proved it’s working with his pop last season.
If nothing changed from here on out, however, we’re talking about the difference between a potential 40-homer right-handed stick and a 28-32 homer left-handed bat.
The Hit Tool
Here’s where Kelenic gets even.
Not to suggest Rodriguez has significant shortcomings in terms of making contact and hitting for average, but Kelenic has the edge in both strike zone judgment and plate coverage, and he’s shown both at higher levels of the minors, lending more present confidence in projecting the hit tool to the big leagues.
Hitting — consistent contact, overall discipline, covering the strike zone, two-strike swing — allows the power to play to its full potential.
Speed & Defense
Rodriguez projects as at least an average right fielder — and I think above average — and he’s a smart base runner, showing an ability to make good reads. It’s far from a weakness for the 19-year-old.
Kelenic, on the other hand, has superior speed by as much as a full grade, and is a better bet to steal few bases. Kelenic also offers more quick-twitch athleticism, allowing him noticeable better jumps and ultimately a chance to play some center field early in his career, making his offensive profile that much more valuable.
Positional Value, Probability & Conclusion
Both Kelenic and Rodriguez are big-league regulars and if someone tries to tell you Rodriguez is better, don’t argue. I wouldn’t. The gap between the two for me isn’t large, but I can rely on Kelenic’s profile more than that of Rodriguez for the reasons noted above.
It basically comes down to a combination of a very similar upside — albeit different, since Rodriguez would lead with the power bat and Kelenic with more of an all-around profile — with probability, defensive value, base running and timetable favoring Kelenic.
While the difference for me is more than a coin flip, it’s not a significant gap, and it’s one Rodriguez can overcome in 2020.
The good news is, choose one and win, no matter which way you lean. The great news is, the Seattle Mariners have both.
What About Logan Gilbert?
The gap between Rodriguez at No. 2 and Gilbert at No. 3 is greater than the one between Rodriguez and Kelenic. But the gap between Gilbert and No. 4 prospect George Kirby is even larger, mainly because we’ve yet to see Kirby ‘start’ in pro ball, going through the lineup three times.
Oh, a scout told me during this past week I was a tad low on Gilbert’s upside and a bit high on his floor, so there’s that. I’ll buy the former, but not the latter. No chance Gilbert is a reliever or No. 5 starter.
George Kirby, et al vs. Evan White
Kirby’s ranking at No. 4 — five spots higher than Evan White at No. 9 — is not indicative of either player’s value in comparison to the other. There’s some gap in upside, leaning Kirby, and a bit of a gap in probability, leaning White since he’s on the brink of the majors now, but Kirby makes up for it and then some with positional value.
Cal Raleigh at No. 5 is a ranking I explained right here in Raleigh’s prospect profile.
Evan White at No. 9
I would argue a bit on rankings of White in the Top 5 and as high as No. 4. There’s just not enough upside here.
Prospect rankings shouldn’t be about ranking a player’s upside, or even ranking the players in order of their most likely end-result. I ask myself “would I trade this player for that one?” And if you ask me if I’d trade Evan White, on the cusp of the majors, for Noelvi Marte (No. 6), the answer is yes.
You can have all the 50, 55 first basemen you want. I’d trade them all, individually, for shots at what Marte can be. And while it’s never purely an upside play, the point is to draft, sign and develop stars. Stars win World Series. Stars drag scrubs to the postseason. Stars carry 50-55 grade first basemen when they slump. It’s much easier to find average to above-average first basemen than, say, above-average catchers, No. 2 starters, or everyday shortstops.
Where’s the biggest gap from one rank to another?
It’s probably a 12-way tie, but doesn’t start until at least the mid-teens. The gap between No. 1 and No. 5 is significantly larger, however, than the gap between No. 5 and No. 10 or between No. 10 and No. 15.
Best chance to jump more than 10 spots in 2020
There will be a lot of graduations in 2020, but there are several talents with the kind of raw tools which could make big pushes this season:
- George Feliz
- Elvis Alvarado
- Brandon Williamson
- Isaiah Campbell
- Jonatan Clase
- Danny Chang
Feliz has Top-10 ability, maybe more. Clase’s hit tool will be under fire in the states, but he’s a burner with head-to-toe quick-twitch actions and added strength. Williamson and Campbell will get a shot to stretch out as starters. Chang’s fastball-curveball combo needs a friend, but he’s athletic and repeats his delivery.
Monday: Future Top 50 Prospects
Photos of Jarred Kelenic & Julio Rodriguez licensed via AP Images