Kelenic exits AFL, eyes Seattle in '20

Top prospect to rest minor back issue, keeps Majors in his sights

October 10th, 2019

SEATTLE -- Jarred Kelenic’s first full season in professional baseball officially ended on Thursday as the Mariners’ No. 1 prospect has been shut down in the Arizona Fall League due to a sore back, but the club is already looking forward to what the 20-year-old can achieve next year after an impressive 2019.

Kelenic, the prize acquisition from the Mets in the Robinson Canó/Edwin Díaz deal last December, will get some downtime now to rest after playing 120 games over the past six months and rising three levels from Class A West Virginia to Class A Advanced Modesto and finally Double-A Arkansas while establishing himself as one of the elite prospects in the game (No. 13 overall, as ranked by MLB Pipeline).

After having his wisdom teeth pulled, Kelenic played just three games in the Arizona Fall League, going 3-for-10 with two RBIs, before being slowed by the sore back. Mariners director of player development Andy McKay said that Kelenic’s back issue isn’t serious, but the club didn’t want to push things for the outfielder at the end of a long year.

So he’ll head home to Wisconsin, take a breather and then begin to prepare for what he hopes could be a chance to break into the Majors in 2020.

“For next season, I’m really focusing on coming into Spring Training and playing as hard as I can and at some point I want to be in the big leagues next year,” Kelenic said, when he was in Seattle accepting the Mariners’ Minor League Hitter of the Year award last month. “Obviously, it’s not up to me. But at the same time, all I can control is going out and playing as hard as I can every single day and the rest will take care of itself.”

Given that Kelenic played just 21 games at Double-A at the end of the regular season, he’ll likely start out at that level again next year and Seattle will see how things progress for him. But the Mariners aren’t ruling anything out after seeing how quickly he adjusted to the lower levels.

“Jarred is so young that I would have bet against him finishing this year in Double-A,” said Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto. “But he did it, and he didn't just do it. He did it and he was awesome once he got to that level.

“We don't want to hold him back. That being said, at 20 years old with a month of experience in Double-A, it'd be aggressive to say that he's in in our Opening Day plans. But we don't want to shut the door on the possibility that he shows up [at some point], because I do think he has the potential to grow into an All-Star-type player. And those guys generally tend to tell you when they're ready, rather than vice versa.”

Kelenic had only played 56 games of Rookie League ball in the Mets’ system after being drafted with the sixth overall pick in 2018 out of Waukesha West High School in Wisconsin. But he posted a .291/.364/.540 line with 23 home runs, 20 stolen bases and 68 RBIs in 500 plate appearances over the three Minor League levels in his first year with the Mariners.

“It was a heck of a season, but at the same time, that’s what I expected out of myself,” Kelenic said. “I had goals set out that I was going to have a 20/20 season before the year even started. So for me, that’s what I expect out of myself. Next season is going to be a little bit different.”

The difference is that his ultimate goal -- to play in the Major Leagues -- now could be within reach, even though he won’t turn 21 until mid-July.

“Really, it comes down to the mental side,” Kelenic said. “I think my talent is what it is and it’s just fine-tuning things, being more consistent. For me, it’s just when stuff doesn’t go my way, being able to turn the page and move on to the next one. Because at the big league level, you can’t afford to dwell on stuff or you’re not going to live up [there].”

And after seeing Arkansas teammate Kyle Lewis (No. 10 prospect) make a quick first impression in Seattle in September, along with other promising prospects in the organization, Kelenic can’t wait to be part of that future.

“Absolutely,” he said. “With Kyle, everybody witnessed it for themselves, seeing what he was doing up here. I think it’s an exciting time for the city of Seattle, really, just to get a glimpse of what is coming. There’s so much more talent down there that is going to be coming up here that is really going to change this ballclub.”