How Kelenic is working towards a steadier '23

Young outfielder enters 3rd MLB season with less pressure, more info

February 18th, 2023

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The way discusses his offseason, it’s as if class was in session.

Coming off another year highlighted by big moments yet inconsistencies, the Wisconsin native opted for warmer climates in California and Arizona, where he trained with private hitting coaches, a notable change after spending most of every winter back home.

He reported ahead of his third MLB season with an overhauled swing and an assortment of handwritten notes detailing its intricacies and a breadth of other knowledge absorbed from the new faces in his inner circle.

“I'm big on writing stuff down, because when you learn that much, you'll forget everything,” Kelenic said. “And so I took time and really wrote things down. Because when I come to the field, I've got to make sure I have all my ducks in a row, because [if not] then I'm wasting everybody else's time.”

Who helped install the changes and what they are weren’t specified, but when asked if they’ll be noticeable to the naked eye, Kelenic said: “Hopefully you’ll notice more productivity. ... It wasn't working, so I had to make an adjustment and work with great coaches this offseason and made the adjustment. And we're going to continue to get better throughout the season.”

Despite a topsy-turvy start to his career, for the third straight year, Kelenic enters camp as arguably Seattle’s most intriguing player. Two years ago, he was MLB Pipeline’s No. 4 overall prospect and had very public tension with the team over his timeline to the Majors. Last year, he was more grounded and coming off a strong finish to an uneven rookie campaign. Both seasons included lengthy returns to the Minors.

This year?

“My goal coming into spring is to do my job,” Kelenic said. “So as long as I keep my head down, and I do my job, you can't say much about it.”

Kelenic eyes a third opportunity to find his footing with more of a safety net than in 2021 and ‘22, when he was either exposed to lefty pitching, expected to be a primary run producer or a combination and more. Couple an intense work ethic with some crippling self accountability, and his mental and performance state both suffered.

“I don't look at my inconsistent success in the big leagues as a lack of ability at all,” Kelenic said. “I look at it as a lack of information that I had. Just like this offseason, I learned a lot, had a lot of opportunities to learn from a lot of great people. And now that I have more information than I’d like, I can go out and apply what I've learned. And I think you're going to see a lot more successes here and we're going to win a lot more games.”

The Mariners built a runway for a less-stressed role for Kelenic this year by signing veteran AJ Pollock, which will form a left-field platoon. Kelenic’s .175/.264/.394 (.658 OPS) slash line against righties from 2021-22 was underwhelming, but his .157/.228/.243 (.471 OPS) against lefties was even more glaring. The righty-hitting Pollock crushed lefties .297/.343/.611 (.954 OPS) the past three years.

“When you have that supporting cast around you, it really buoys you up -- it doesn’t allow you to sink,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “It's hard to get that point all the time. Just show up and play. You don’t have to carry the team.”

Pollock won’t preclude the Mariners from starting Kelenic against lefties, as Pollock will also DH and could be needed if Seattle’s outfield depth dwindles to injuries. Taylor Trammell, who was to compete with Kelenic for the lefty half of the platoon, recently suffered a broken right hamate bone and is out six to seven weeks.

That reduced the depth, but presented Kelenic a clear path to the job. He’ll also see time in center and right field when Julio Rodríguez departs for the World Baseball Classic. Kelenic made defensive progress last year, going from minus-18 defensive runs saved in 2021 to plus-3 in ‘22 in about half the innings.

“I wanted to take it a step further and really hone in on some things,” Kelenic said. “I know I’ve got a really strong arm from the outfield, but if you have a strong arm and you can't hit the broad side of a barn, you’re kind of useless out there.”

Now Kelenic is out for his bat to catch his glove.

“When he came back last year, there were really a lot of positives,” Servais said. “A lot of good at-bats, a lot of balls [hit] hard, very competitive, played really good defense. ... I know he's been working his tail off here and I've seen some video of his swing and a couple of adjustments he's made. It looks really good.”