Mariners option Kelenic to Triple-A

June 7th, 2021

DETROIT -- is still attempting to steer back into a positive direction at the plate, but he’ll now be doing so at Triple-A Tacoma.

The Mariners on Monday optioned the prized outfield prospect in the midst of a hitless streak that spans 44 plate appearances dating back to May 25, a nearly two-week stretch. In a corresponding move, second baseman was activated from the 60-day injured list, a promising sign in his lengthy recovery from season-ending right shin surgery last September.

Kelenic never got going at the level he’d shown at every Minor League classification; he had rocketed his way through Seattle’s farm system en route to becoming MLB Pipeline’s No. 4 overall prospect. He returns to the Rainiers with a slash line of .096/.185/.193 and 14 wRC+ (league average is 100) over 92 plate appearances in 23 big league games, currently worth minus-0.8 WAR, per FanGraphs.

But the club is steadfast that these are merely the growing pains of a 21-year-old learning how to become a big leaguer. Mariners management repeatedly pointed out in Spring Training, before it opted not to include him on the Opening Day roster, that Kelenic had only played 21 games above High-A, all in 2019. The ‘18 Draft selection Kelenic didn’t make his Triple-A debut until last month after not playing beyond the alternate training site in ’20 due to the cancellation of the Minors season.

Despite his shortcomings in the box score, Kelenic showed an advanced approach and sound baseball IQ in his first stint in the Majors. He averaged 3.92 pitches per plate appearance, almost exactly at the league average of 3.93.

That’s a sign that he was making pitchers attack him, all of whom did so with a bevy of secondary offerings, which proved to be his biggest pitfall. Kelenic whiffed on fastballs just 11% of the time, an elite rate, but he missed on 35.1% of the breaking and offspeed pitches he saw. This will likely be an area that the Mariners will want to see improvement, and he’ll get plenty of chances to do so at Triple-A, where the secondary stuff is far more advanced than in the mid-Minors.

In the Majors, Kelenic was thrown into the ringer right away, batting leadoff for his first 17 starts before being dropped to the bottom half of the order after his struggles became more pronounced. Hitting at the top of a big league lineup has its inherent challenges, and even when he had a strong plan in the batter’s box, there were many times in which pitchers diligently worked around him.

Kelenic’s seemingly unheard-of .109 batting average on balls in play -- the Majors’ lowest by nearly 20 points among 318 qualified hitters -- certainly supported the argument that he also ran into some poor luck. As did his expected batting average, which was 88 points higher than his actual clip, the second-widest negative gap among that same group of hitters.

As was the case last month with fellow outfielder Taylor Trammell, who was optioned to Tacoma to make room for Kelenic and is now back in the Majors and producing with better results, this likely won’t be the only stint in The Show for Kelenic this season.

Meanwhile, the Mariners returned Long after a nearly nine-month road to recovery from the stress fracture in his shin that until just a few weeks ago had prevented him from playing in nine-inning games. Long has been on a tear over his seven-game rehab assignment with Tacoma, hitting .323/.417/.516 with one homer and three doubles in 36 plate appearances. He’ll be a welcome reinforcement for a beleaguered Mariners club that has 15 players on the IL, including starting second baseman Dylan Moore, for whom Long will be filling in.

Also on Monday, the Mariners transferred utility man Sam Haggerty to the 60-day IL as he recovers from right shoulder inflammation.