All you need to know about Kelenic’s debut

May 13th, 2021

SEATTLE -- 's much-anticipated MLB debut is set for Thursday, when the Mariners open a homestand against Cleveland in front of what is assured to be an incredibly eager crowd at T-Mobile Park. Seattle fans have been clamoring to see MLB Pipeline’s No. 4 overall prospect for quite some time, and they will finally get that chance.

The outfielder has been a mainstream name in prospect circles over the past three years, but for those who don’t have a full grasp of his background, here is the skinny:

How can I watch the game?
The game can be streamed for free on MLB.TV and is also available on MLB Network. Local blackout restrictions apply.

Those in the Seattle and Cleveland markets can watch on Root Sports Northwest and Bally Sports Great Lakes, respectively.

How do you pronounce his name?
KELL-nick (not Kell-Uh-Nick).

Why is he such a big deal?
Because his floor is high and his ceiling is even higher. Kelenic’s compact swing and advanced hitting approach suggest that even with the intense uptick of advanced pitching that he’ll face in the big leagues, he should still hold his own and adjust quickly.

Over 178 games in three Minor League seasons, Kelenic has hit .293/.369/.521 with 31 home runs and 115 RBIs in 775 plate appearances. He is already off to a 9-for-22 start with Triple-A Tacoma, including two homers on Opening Day, and that small but emphatic sample size is a huge reason why he’s being called up now instead of later.

Even with his expected delay to begin the season -- the Mariners maintained that he needed extra time in Minors spring training, and also retained an extra year of possible service time -- experts still picked Kelenic as a favorite to win the AL Rookie of the Year Award.

Above all his potential, Kelenic carries the immense swagger of a big leaguer. He looks and sounds every bit the part with his verbal confidence, which he backs with his stellar play. And his teammates, from young to old, respect him for his tireless work ethic.

How will the Mariners use him?
Kelenic will take over left field for now, which the club had earmarked for him all offseason. It’s largely why the Mariners didn’t sign a bridge-type veteran in free agency last offseason. But the Mariners will also have no reservations about moving him to center and right to spell Kyle Lewis and Mitch Haniger, respectively.

“I think he’ll play all three,” Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “Because actually, the position of least familiarity to him is left field. But he has played a ton of left field since the start of the alt site last year, but most specifically since Spring Training this year, because we knew that's where the lion's share of his opportunity early in his Major League career was going to come.”

They will also lean on him to be an offensive jolt. Following their 7-1 loss to the Dodgers on Wednesday, in which they had just two hits, Seattle is batting a collective .204/.281/.364 for an 87 wRC+ (league average is 100), and the hope is that Kelenic can provide a spark. At the very least, he’ll bring a fresh face and energy to the lineup. Dipoto even indicated as much on a radio hit with ESPN 710 Seattle last week.

“In some part because we feel he's making progress, some part it's time to take a look at him and that's coming sooner than later,” Dipoto said. “Also some part in that it might add a spark to our offense if we give him that opportunity"

What can we expect from him on defense?
Despite his 6-foot-1, 190-pound frame, Kelenic wowed with his speed and athleticism to go from a “he might not stick in center field” evaluation to a “he should be able to play center field long term” report, as’s Jonathan Mayo outlined. He has a plus arm, too, that should play in left. With Kyle Lewis holding down center and Mitch Haniger in right, left field seems to be Kelenic’s spot for now. But the Mariners will use him all over the outfield.

What number will he wear?
It will be No. 10. It’s the number he wore in big league Spring Training and what he’s worn in his limited stint at Triple-A Tacoma.

Where will he hit in the lineup?
Given his elite contact ability, patient approach, power potential and plus speed, Kelenic profiles as the prototypical leadoff man in today’s game, and that's exactly where he'll hit in his debut.

Are there any player comps?
Kelenic has drawn a handful of prominent player comparisons, and if he winds up on the trajectory of any of them, the Mariners could have a cornerstone All-Star in the coming years.

When thinking about contact-heavy, compact-swinging left-handed hitters, the obvious name that jumps off the page is Chase Utley. During his prime, the former Phillies superstar struck out less than 20% of the time and had an on-base percentage in the high .300s. His game was more predicated on contact than power, but he was always a threat to go yard. All of these are attributes that make up Kelenic’s offensive profile, and Utley’s super compact swing that was built from his legs up simply looks like Kelenic’s.

The other notable Kelenic comp is Seattle-born Grady Sizemore, whose pitch recognition and plate discipline helped him excel into an All-Star by his age-23 season. He hit .279/.370/.491 with an average of more than 20 homers over his first five seasons -- numbers that would seem to be in Kelenic territory -- before injuries derailed his extremely promising career.

A little more of a reach would be Bryce Harper. Kelenic probably doesn’t have as much power as the Phillies’ six-time All-Star, at least not yet, and he probably has less strikeout potential. But those sweet swings look awfully similar at times.

Kelenic has also drawn likeness to Steve Finley and Carlos Beltrán.

Where is he from?
Waukesha, Wis., which according to Google data has a population of 72,412 as of 2019. For a state situated in cold temperatures throughout most of the year -- it’s forecasted for a low of 41 degrees when he debuts on Thursday in Seattle -- Kelenic is arguably the most prominent baseball prospect of all time to emerge from the Badger State.

As’s Jon Paul Morosi pointed out in 2018, Kelenic became the first Wisconsin-developed player selected with a Top 10 pick in the MLB Draft, when he was taken No. 6 overall by the Mets.

Wisconsin, through the years, has produced only a few MLB standouts -- a mere 11 since the Draft was implemented in 1965 have accumulated at least 3.0 wins above replacement, per Baseball-Reference, including Mariners manager Scott Servais (3.1), who played parts of 11 seasons in the big leagues as a catcher.

Among active players, there are only seven position players and five pitchers from Wisconsin who’ve played in games in 2021. That group includes the Angels’ Jared Walsh, who has been one of the Majors’ biggest surprises early this season, and the Dodgers’ Gavin Lux, touted as one of the most hyped infield prospects in Los Angeles’ loaded system in recent years.

How did the Mariners acquire him?
In a blockbuster, and one that essentially launched the rebuild that the club is on a trajectory from emerging from.

Seattle sent Robinson Canó and the remainder of his 10-year, $240 million contract, as well as Edwin Díaz, who was coming off a franchise-best 57 saves, to the ambitious Mets in exchange for Kelenic and starting pitching prospect Justin Dunn, who has since emerged as a key foundational piece to the rotation long term. The Mariners also acquired outfielder Jay Bruce and relievers Anthony Swarzak and Gerson Bautista, who are no longer with the team.

No matter how anyone chalks it, that deal was a massive win for Dipoto, regardless of how Kelenic pans out. Seattle was able to get out under the final five years of Canó's contract, which became even more of a sticking point when the second baseman was suspended for the entire 2021 season after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs for the second time in his career, the first being with Seattle. And given the Mariners’ move into a rebuild, they no longer had a need for the elite closer that Diaz had become.

Mets fans may continue to rue the day that former general manager Brodie Van Wagenen -- who previously represented Canó as his agent before taking the GM gig in New York -- dealt away Kelenic, who has big-time potential. And the Mariners acquired a player that they scouted intensely ahead of the 2018 Draft and had strongly considering selecting with the No. 14 pick had he not been taken prior.

How does the timing of Kelenic’s debut affect his contract?
Because he did not debut on or before April 15, Kelenic will not accrue a full year of Major League service time in 2021. So even if he were to remain with the club for the rest of the regular season, the earliest he could reach free agency is not until after the 2027 season.

What pitcher will he be facing?
Kelenic will have no soft landing on Thursday, with Cleveland set to start Zach Plesac, who has a 2.93 ERA and 153 ERA+ and has struck out 24% of the 367 batters he’s faced since the start of last season. The right-hander also has reverse splits through seven starts in ’21, holding left-handed hitters, such as Kelenic, to a .555 OPS opposed to a .682 mark against righties.