Kelenic did three things in 2019 to more than live up to his scouting report, starting with turning raw tools into production at the plate.
Bat speed and barrel awareness produced well above-average power, and despite moving from the Class-A Midwest League all the way to Double-A Arkansas by the end of the season, Kelenic’s advanced plate skills helped him avoid long slumps.
The top prospect in the Seattle Mariners farm system took such a big jump in 2019 he’s likely closer to the big leagues than he is from the trade that shipped him west.
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Regardless where Kelenic ends up in the power department, he’s built a foundation at the plate strongly suggestive of an everyday major-league bat with the floor of a platoon option. His swing lengthens a bit at times but when he keeps it simple, he sprays line drives from the left-center gap to the right field, and with power. An adjustment in his setup – where he started his hands – seems to have made a significant difference.
|2019||A, A+, AA||500||.291||.366||.516||23||50||111|
The one concern is Kelenic will occasionally get overaggressive with the power swing and dig himself into pitcher’s counts against better pitching. There will be a few adjustment periods between now and the day he hits the majors, but mainly Kelenic simply needs to see good velocity and four-pitch mixes on a regular basis in order to prepare him for the cruel world of big-league pitching.
I tossed a 65 grade on Kelenic’s power a year ago and while that may have been slightly aggressive at the time, he’s justified the long-term prognosis – for the most part. The bat speed and swing path project 25-30 home runs and 30-40 doubles a year, but how he incorporates the power into his game plan remains a work in progress.
Defensively, Kelenic displays plus routes and average jumps in center field, and his arm grades out as plus. There are no wasted steps and he positions himself well without much assistance from the bench.
He’s not a burner and may end up closer to an average runner as he continues to add strength, but he does show good instincts on the base paths and does a good job reading pitchers and getting good jumps on stolen-base attempts.
Kelenic moved two levels in 2019 and may do the same in 2020. After some play in the Cactus League in March, he’s likely to return to Arkansas this spring with a chance to end the summer at T-Mobile Park.
The 20-year-old projects as an above-average outfielder who may stick in center early in his career. His current offensive trajectory suggests a corner-worthy profile, however, so if he must slide to left or right the only thing that really changes is the first letter of his positional abbreviation.
Aside from the solid-to-plus tools across the board, Kelenic is an intelligent player with an uncompromising work ethic, and continues to carry star-level upside.
There’s a more-than-decent chance the Mariners’ top two prospects are two-thirds of the big-league club’s starting outfield in 2021. The bigger question is who the third piece is. If it’s Kyle Lewis, Kelenic is the starter in center. But it could also be Braden Bishop, Jose Siri or Jake Fraley, or even a player not currently in the organization, which likely lands Kelenic in a corner.
When Jerry Dipoto took over as GM in September of 2015, Kelenic had just received his driver’s license and Rodriguez was three months from turning 15. Now both are on the brink of the major leagues, and potentially stardom.
Photo of Jarred Kelenic by Darron Cummings, licensed via AP.
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