DETROIT -- For those who thought Jarred Kelenic was one swing away from a breakthrough, you’re not alone. Jerry Dipoto had that same intuition over the past two weeks while watching the Mariners’ top prospect labor through an 0-for-39 funk that ultimately led to him being optioned to Triple-A Tacoma on Monday.
On Tuesday, Seattle’s general manager chalked up Kelenic’s struggles to the growing pains of a new big leaguer trying to find his way, expressing full confidence that MLB Pipeline’s No. 4 overall prospect will get back on track and be back in the big leagues sooner than later.
“There's no questioning the talent, and we did see in the underlying skill, we saw the things that we would like to see,” Dipoto said. “But it's been a pretty lengthy dry spell for him.”
If it looked like Kelenic was pressing more and more over the past week, when his hitless streak reached 11 games -- Dipoto noticed that, too.
“You can see it in his face,” Dipoto said. “You can see it in his body language as he's walking into and out of the batter's box on a given night. Jarred has so many years in front of him and so much success left to give that there's no sense in driving to the desert for this first chance before just tapping the brakes and giving him an opportunity to find himself."
This decision doesn’t come as a knock on Kelenic’s skills, baseball IQ and certainly not his effort. Until the past six games, when his strikeout rate climbed from 19.7% to 28.2%, Kelenic had a sound approach at the plate, appeared to understand how pitchers were attacking him and, more often than not, he was simply getting beat. But the at-bats for the first two weeks were competitive.
“We were seeing good at-bats that weren’t naturally translating into terrific results,” Dipoto said. “But we saw all of the elements. He was taking his walks, he was working counts, he was swinging at the right pitches. And for the most part, that was the overriding takeaway from his first Major League opportunity.”
Mariners manager Scott Servais was the one who relayed the decision to Kelenic following Sunday’s win in Anaheim.
“I think he understands where it's at, where he's at,” Servais said. “It doesn't mean that he agreed with the decision. Nobody likes to [hear] that kind of news. But it was a good conversation.”
Dipoto also dispelled the notion that the club was too trigger-happy by calling Kelenic up after he played in just six games for Tacoma at the start of its season, which began on May 6, representing his highest-level affiliate yet.
“It’s easy to be a backseat second guesser," Dipoto said. “The same thought might prevail if he'd come up and crushed it from the beginning, we would’ve been criticized for being too slow.”
The Mariners are steadfast that Kelenic will more consistently play at the level he showed in his spurt of greatness during his first weekend in The Show, when he homered for his first big league hit and had two impressive hustle doubles. It was an electric performance that put backing to Kelenic’s lofty prospect ranking and the hype surrounding the former No. 6 overall Draft pick.
“His second day in the big leagues, he was the best player on the field,” Dipoto said. “And I think it was eye-opening to a lot of people, the things that he's capable of.”
The most recent case study on a Triple-A reset is the player who was sent down to make room for Kelenic’s debut last month: Taylor Trammell, who tore up Tacoma to a .384/.413/.726 slash line with six homers and returned to the Majors last Tuesday. Trammell made a mechanical adjustment, but he also took a mental breather and is showing a better approach at the plate with far fewer strikeouts and more confidence.
Even Mike Trout was sent down after struggling in his first big league stint, one that lasted just 14 games, when he hit .163/.213/.279. Trout then came back up three weeks later, never looked back and the following season was the AL MVP runner-up. The rest there is history.
“My guess is that when [Kelenic] returns, he'll have learned how to manage the ups and the downs a little bit better than he has this time,” Dipoto said. “And that's going to be the next step toward making his adjustments as a big leaguer. We all think that he's going to be an impact player at this level, and it's just a matter of time.”