MESA, Ariz. -- Jarred Kelenic reiterated Wednesday that he believes that he’s ready to play in the Majors and that he wants to earn his way onto the Mariners’ Opening Day roster through his Spring Training performance.
Seattle’s No. 1 prospect made his first case for consideration with a two-run homer in an 8-8 tie against the Cubs, the club’s first long ball of Cactus League play. Then he spoke with Seattle media for the first time since former Mariners president and CEO Kevin Mather’s comments surfaced late last month.
"Obviously, you heard the comments. I'm an extremely confident person, and it's no secret,” Kelenic said. “So I'm just going to go out -- and like I said before -- use it as motivation and try to dominate the spring.
“I'm a very driven person as it is. Having said that, something like this comes up, and I think you can look at it one of two ways -- one, you can sit and you can pout about it. Or you can use it as motivation and let it drive you even more. And that's kind of where I'm at, [which] is, each and every day, I'm using this to drive me.”
Mariners management says that it believes Kelenic needs more Minor League development, regardless of how he performs in Spring Training. Kelenic has excelled at every level, but he only has 83 at-bats above Class A Advanced, and that was a year and a half ago. What gives the No. 4 prospect in all of baseball the conviction that he’s ready to make the Major League leap?
“I would say that my preparation has been definitely a key factor to that,” Kelenic said. “At the same time, it's being around guys like that in the clubhouse here, and going out there and playing against that type of talent. I think just seeing where you stack up and how the game comes to you, I definitely know the game of baseball, and I definitely feel like I can help this team out. And hopefully, I can keep doing so throughout Spring Training.”
Kelenic’s situation became more complicated Tuesday, when Triple-A Tacoma announced that its season will be delayed until May 6, eliminating the likeliest landing spot for Kelenic to start the regular season next month. Kelenic spent two months at the alternate training site in 2020 after an impressive showing in Summer Camp at T-Mobile Park. Major League Baseball is still finalizing plans for alternate sites and hasn’t announced the logistics or roster sizes.
“I went through one all summer last year, played extremely well all throughout the alternate site,” Kelenic said. “But you know, here's the thing -- it's not sunshine and rainbows, whatsoever. It’s hard to develop at all when it comes to an alternate site. It's not real-life games. You're not playing against other competition. But at the end of the day, last year, those were the cards that were dealt. Hopefully this year, one of the dealers gives me different cards.”
With all Minor League seasons delayed, that leaves the alternate site, Minor League Spring Training in Peoria -- which begins directly after the big leaguers depart -- or the Major League roster as the only spots for Kelenic after the team departs for Opening Day on April 1. If he were to stay in Minors camp, there would be games for him to play in, though it would represent a stepdown in talent compared to what he’s currently seeing in the Cactus League.
As for Kelenic’s fit on the big league roster, left field doesn’t have much clarity. Jake Fraley and Braden Bishop are the leading contenders for the starting job, and both are older and have accumulated far more Minor League at-bats. But they’ve struggled offensively at the MLB level in small sample sizes: Bishop has hit .128/.185/.151 in 94 plate appearances and Fraley has hit .152/.200/.227 in 70 PAs.
If Kelenic doesn’t reach the Majors until after April 16, he would not accrue a full year of Major League service time. Players need six years of service before becoming eligible for free agency, and service time was among the topics Mather mentioned surrounding Kelenic in the video that led to his resignation.
“I'm not sure how you construe service-time manipulation with a 21-year-old player who's played  games above [Class] A ball, and who has not yet achieved 800 plate appearances as a professional player,” Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “That would be an unprecedented run to the big leagues by a high school draftee. That hasn't happened in three decades.”
The player Dipoto was alluding to was former Mariner Alex Rodriguez, whom Seattle called up in 1994 for 17 games at age 18 and for 48 games the following year, which combined allowed him to reach free agency in 2000 instead of ’01. Nationals star Juan Soto is a more recent example of rising quickly through the Minors, having played in just 122 Minor League games before making his MLB debut.
“For me, my main job doesn't change,” Kelenic said. “Regardless of who says what, I'm just going to come out and play my game.”