Kelenic sharp in highly anticipated AFL debut

October 2nd, 2019

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Jarred Kelenic is one of the best prospects in baseball and he's on mission. He has an ambitious goal of reaching the big leagues in 2020, even though he won't turn 21 until midseason.

Playing in the Arizona Fall League will help expedite his development, so Kelenic said it was incredibly frustrating to have his debut delayed until Tuesday night, two weeks into the season. He had all four of his wisdom teeth removed Sept. 21, his second day in Arizona, and the Mariners decided to take it slow with his recovery.

While he understood and agreed with the team's perspective, Kelenic said it still didn't make it any easier to watch rather than play. He went 1-for-3 in his AFL debut as Peoria defeated Surprise, 3-1, with his single playing a role in a decisive three-run outburst in the third inning.

"It's not like it's a hamstring issue or something like that," said Kelenic, who ranks No. 13 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list. "It's your mouth. So that's something that really frustrates you because everywhere your body feels 100 percent but your mouth, and your mouth has nothing to do with baseball."

The Mets drafted Kelenic sixth overall out of Waukesha (Wis.) West High in 2018, then sent him to Seattle six months later as part of an already regrettable trade for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz. In his first full professional season, Kelenic advanced from low Class A to Double-A while batting a combined .291/.364/.540 with 23 homers and 20 steals.

Considered the best pure hitter in the 2018 prep class, Kelenic may have more power and speed than initially expected. He has a chance to stick in center field and definitely has the arm for right field if he has to move to a corner. He's confident in his ability and says he doesn't think he has to make many adjustments before he's ready for the Majors.

"The biggest thing for me is not really skillset-wise because I think my skillset speaks for itself," Kelenic said. "The biggest thing is just being able to handle the mental side, being able to turn the page when something doesn't go my way, and learning how to control what I can control and just keep playing hard.

"I think it's mostly the mental side, really. The game's faster up there, there's more talent, there's going to be more failure. And for me, it's just going to be learning how to tolerate it, being able to learn from it and move on to the next pitch."

Peoria starter Penn Murfee (Mariners) confounded Surprise with his sidearm delivery, striking out seven in four shutout innings. He threw 42 of his 60 pitches for strikes while working his 89-90 mph fastball to both sides of the plate. The right-hander has permitted just one earned run in 10 AFL frames over three starts while recording an 11/3 K/BB ratio.

Four relievers combined with Murfee to strike out a total of 16 Saguaros while limiting them to four hits and a walk. Right-hander Jojanse Torres (Astros) earned his second save by striking out the side in a perfect ninth inning, sitting at 96-98 mph with his fastball and 86-87 mph with his slider.

The Javelinas didn't manage much offense of their own, totaling just six hits, but they parlayed three singles and a walk into three runs in the third inning. Shortstop Oneil Cruz (Pirates), who had just three hits in 26 at-bats coming into the game, sparked the uprising with a leadoff single and went 2-for-2 to raise his average from .179.

Designated hitter Nick Banks (Nationals) broke up Peoria's shutout with an eighth-inning home run into the right-field bullpen off left-hander Yoan Aybar (Red Sox). The blast had an exit velocity of 110 mph and traveled 404 feet.

Peoria's victory enabled it to pull within two games of Surprise in the West Division. The Javelinas improved to 6-5 while the Saguaros still own the best record in the Fall League at 8-3.