The 20-year-old outfielder slugged a pair of home runs in an eight-inning intrasquad game on Monday, taking relievers Nestor Cortes Jr. and Carl Edwards Jr. deep as he continued a strong Summer Camp showing for a team that is trying to be patient with its rebuilding plans.
Kelenic is 4-for-6 with two doubles and two home runs in three intrasquad games for a club that is short on outfielders, with Mitch Haniger on the 45-day injured list and Mallex Smith just joining the club on Monday after clearing COVID-19 protocols.
Rookies Kyle Lewis, Jake Fraley and Braden Bishop are the only true outfielders in camp with Major League experience after each received brief exposure last season. Kelenic clearly could challenge for a roster spot if the Mariners are willing to let him jump from Double-A Arkansas, where he finished last season.
General manager Jerry Dipoto has preached caution, pointing out that Kelenic has only 83 at-bats above the Class A level. But he hasn’t slammed the door on the youngster making the jump. Kelenic -- the No. 11 overall prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline -- clearly has the confidence to give it a go.
“My expectations are so much higher than everyone else’s and that’s really got me here,” he said. “It’s got me to where I am and continues to push me to be the best. If you don’t have that mentality, things can slip away sometimes. Your work ethic is so important in this game.
“So when you have goals and aspirations, whether it’s the Hall of Fame or winning a World Series, I think you need goals that are above and beyond, because then it gives you something to work for, day in and day out, and makes you dig that much deeper.”
Kelenic is listed at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, but he spent the 3 1/2-month shutdown working out at his home in Waukesha, Wis., and returned in even better shape.
“I got a lot bigger,” he said. “My routine stayed the same when I went back home because of the facilities that I have. I’m sure everyone can relate. There’s not a lot to do during quarantine. I wake up every morning and go hit and then go to the gym and work out like crazy.”
The Mariners acquired Kelenic from the Mets as part of the Robinson Canó/Edwin Díaz trade prior to the 2019 season and immediately marveled at his advanced baseball acumen. Whether they’ll take a chance on pushing him to the Majors at age 20 in this shortened season remains to be seen.
He'd hit .231 (6-for-26) with a double and home run in 13 Cactus League games in his first big league camp before the shutdown and will only have a chance to face intrasquad competition in the next 10 days before the Mariners set their Opening Day roster.
Asked if he could be patient if the Mariners do hold him back, Kelenic paused.
“I’m just taking it one day at a time,” he said.
Even when those days are rather unique right now as he works out with the Mariners in Seattle during a pandemic.
“I come to the field, I play baseball and work out, and go home to my hotel room and either Facetime my girlfriend or parents and play video games,” he said. “My dad always told me that the more simple you can make life, the happier and better you’re going to be. And right now, I can’t complain. It’s pretty simple.”