NEW YORK -- The idea of graduating high school early first germinated in Jarred Kelenic's brain when he was a sophomore, and one of his sister's friends accomplished the feat. Curious, Kelenic approached his guidance counselor, who pulled up his file. All Kelenic needed to do to graduate a semester ahead of schedule, he realized, was double up on English classes his senior year.
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So Kelenic did. While his buddies spent the spring locked in classrooms, Kelenic began preparing for life as a professional baseball player. He awoke at a more reasonable hour each morning, giving himself time to eat a hearty breakfast. He commuted daily to a batting cage on property his parents own in Waukesha, Wis. He returned home for lunch before heading back out for his afternoon workout.
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In that fashion, Kelenic, who never played high school baseball, molded himself into a top 10 Draft pick. The Mets on Monday selected Kelenic sixth overall, lauding him as a potential "two-way" player capable of impacting games with both his left-handed bat and his outfield glove.
"We felt very comfortable selecting a player this high in the Draft who has tremendous makeup, passion for the game, intensity for the game," Mets director of amateur scouting Marc Tramuta said of Kelenic, a center fielder with enough power potential to play corner outfield. "That's been his sole goal is to play in the big leagues and get drafted as high as possible."
It is not a goal that many in snowy Waukesha share, though for the Mets, who in 2011 made Brandon Nimmo the first first-rounder ever from Wyoming, such unorthodox geography isn't an issue. Partially because long winters shorten the baseball season in Wisconsin, Kelenic, like Nimmo, never played for his high school team. Instead, he was a staple of the Rawlings Hitters travel program, part of his presence on the elite travel circuit.
In 2016, Kelenic made Team USA's under-18 squad as a 16-year-old, batting third for a club that won the Pan American Games gold medal. He didn't need high school ball to log significant at-bats; last year alone, Kelenic guided Team USA to the 2017 U-18 World Cup championship, scored the winning run in the Under Armour All-America Baseball Game, and participated in the High School Home Run Derby at Marlins Park during All-Star weekend.
The Mets, who have scouted Kelenic since he was 15 years old, took note of all of it.
They also grew fond of Kelenic's work ethic, which he learned at least in part from elite athletes. Along with the batting cage that Kelenic visits daily, his father, a general contractor, built a complex that houses a nearby sports training facility. In the summers, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt -- another Waukesha native -- is one of many professional athletes who works out there.
"He's in the NFL and one of the best," Kelenic said. "And to see how hard that guy still works on a day-to-day basis, it's motivation for kids like me that want to be where he is. Even though it's a different sport, you want to be at the top."
The selection of Kelenic was the Mets' highest since 2004, when they took pitcher Philip Humber fourth overall. With their second-round pick, the Mets took a 17-year-old prep star, 6-foot-3 pitcher Simeon Woods-Richardson from Kempner (Texas) High School. Ranked 160th in MLB Pipeline's Draft board, Woods-Richardson features a fastball that tops out in the mid-90s. But it was the right-hander's curveball that most enticed the Mets.
"He was one of the few high school pitchers -- and believe it or not, there were quite a few that throw 95-plus -- that had a now or present breaking pitch," Mets vice president of amateur scouting Tommy Tanous said.
The Draft continues on Tuesday with Rounds 3-10. The MLB.com preview show begins at 12:30 p.m. ET, with exclusive coverage beginning at 1 p.m. ET. The Mets will spend the day looking for more players like Kelenic, whom they had targeted for months.
"Today was special," Kelenic said. "To hear your name called by such a great organization like New York, it's a blessing. I was definitely very emotional. I got to sit and think about all the hard work that's paid off."