Kelenic's big night 'everything you dream of'

May 15th, 2021

SEATTLE -- does a lot of things loudly, and his first Major League hit was no exception. The Mariners’ prized outfield prospect crushed a 403-foot homer into the right-center-field bleachers that emphatically left his bat at 109.3 mph during the third inning of Friday’s 7-3 win over Cleveland, a victory that snapped a five-game losing streak.

Kelenic turned on a low-and-away 85 mph splitter from starting pitcher Aaron Civale in a 1-0 count -- a “cookie” over the plate, as the 21-year-old likes to call such offerings -- and drilled it with authority, with an echo that boomed through T-Mobile Park.

It was a telling example of the patient and disciplined approach -- putting himself into a hitter's count and jumping on the offering -- that has made Kelenic MLB Pipeline’s No. 4 prospect in all of baseball. The home run was part of a memorable night for Kelenic (pronounced KELL-Nick), who one day after going hitless in his MLB debut went 3-for-4 with the homer, two doubles, three RBIs, and two runs scored.

Kelenic saw four of Civale’s six pitches in his first at-bat -- a check-swing strikeout, but one that was competitive -- then he came back his second time with a revised plan.

“I want to bury our opponents, each and every night,” Kelenic said. “And what really bugs me is when I give away at-bats, or if I don't execute on what I'm trying to do, just because, like what I just said, I want to win.”

Statcast was also able to finally put tangible backing to the bat speed that scouts have raved about, with Kelenic nearly touching the 110 mph threshold that is among the most elite. It was Seattle’s seventh-hardest-hit homer this season, and it gave what’s been a scuffling offense a 3-0 lead. But more telling to Kelenic’s strength was his ability to yank a pitch with a splitter’s behavior that hard and that far to the pull side. 

“Very strong,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said of Kelenic's look in the box. “Jarred’s got great rhythm at the plate; you're talking about hitters and short swings and having power, but you’ve got to have rhythm, and he has outstanding rhythm at the plate. And that's what allows him to see pitches, recognize pitches and control the strike zone the way he does.”

After rounding the bases, Kelenic pointed to his family and girlfriend in the stands, ducked into the dugout, then came out for a curtain call -- his first ever, he said -- in front of a roaring crowd that became a moment that, if his career plays out as he and the Mariners anticipate, will be the first of many shown on highlight reels for years to come.

The ROOT Sports Northwest broadcast captured his parents, Thomas and Lisa, embraced in an emotional hug, with his girlfriend, Gina, capturing the moment via video.

“I think it's everything you dream of, to be able to share this with my parents, and my friends, and other family members is huge, and something I'll never forget,” Kelenic said.

At 21 years and 302 days old, Kelenic became the youngest Mariners player to go yard since Adam Jones went deep on Aug. 10, 2006, though that came in Jones’ 20th career game.

He also became the first Mariners player to homer for his first big league hit since Kyle Lewis took Trevor Bauer deep on Sept. 10, 2019.

Lewis went on to homer another five times (six total) in his first 10 games, and of course, went on to become the American League Rookie of the Year the following season.

Could Kelenic be on another ROY trajectory? Despite debuting six weeks into the season, experts predicted before the season that there’s a strong chance, as did Las Vegas oddsmakers, who put Kelenic behind only Rays postseason hero Randy Arozarena with the best odds.

“To see a guy as young as he is come in confident, especially with the work to back it, it's great to see,” veteran right fielder Mitch Haniger said. “I mean, that's what you want -- you want a young player coming up who works hard, goes about his business the right way. He's prepared every day.

“Sometimes it takes guys a couple years to get to be that way and kind of learn the ropes. He came in [against Civale] and knew what he wanted to do against him. It's been fun to watch. He's a good player.”

In a coincidental quirk, Kelenic’s deep fly came on the nine-year anniversary of Bryce Harper’s first big league homer, one that Kelenic said on his YouTube channel recently that he watched live, then another 20 times on replay the following morning before school.

Kelenic, who been compared to Harper for his makeup, swing profile and unapologetic confidence, was in sixth grade at the time.

“Over and over again, over and over again,” Kelenic recalled of watching the Harper highlight. “And he did it at home. He hit a ball to center field. I didn't know that. That's actually pretty cool. That's awesome.”

Just as impressive, in the eyes of his teammates, was Kelenic’s hustle on a pair of doubles that required a little extra effort. 

In the fifth inning, Kelenic willed his way to second on a gapper to right-center, challenging Cleveland center fielder Jordan Luplow, whose throw reached second base in time but was off-line because it was delivered with urgency.

Kelenic reached second in 8.24 seconds, with a sprint speed of 28.2 feet per second per Statcast (27.0 is league average and 30.0 is elite).

In the seventh, he fisted an opposite-field liner along the foul line that scored Sam Haggerty, also putting him in scoring position for Haniger, who crushed his AL-leading 11th homer to put the game out of reach. Kelenic dialed his sprint speed up to 28.9 on that one.

“Ever since I was young, my dad always taught me that when you make contact, it's always a double out of the box,” Kelenic said. “So that's the same mentality I've had ever since I was young.

“And I think that, like you saw tonight, especially on the first double, I feel like those are iffy if the outfielder is going to get to it in time and make a good enough throw. But if I can put some pressure on him early, when he peeks at me coming around first base, he may overthrow it. And now I’m in scoring position for the guy behind me.”

Postgame, Kelenic was treated with the customary beer bath celebration in the home clubhouse. That part of Friday was a one-time occasion, standard practice for a rookie hitting his first homer. But a three-hit game and willing his team to a win figure to become regular practice for the Mariners.

“Sometimes, one player can make a difference,” Servais said, “just how guys go through their at-bats and the emotion and excitement that he can bring on a daily basis.”