Mariners top prospect Jarred Kelenic made his Triple-A debut last night and did little to quell the growing fan clamor for his promotion. The 2018 No. 6 overall pick and centerpiece of the Edwin Diaz/Robinson Cano blockbuster ripped a pair of home runs to right field in his first minor league game since Sept. 2, 2019. (You can watch both blasts at these Twitter links, courtesy of MLB Pipeline and MiLB Mariners.)
The multi-homer showing came just hours after MLB.com’s Jon Morosi tweeted that Kelenic was “likely” to debut this month — a timeline most already expected — which prompted some comments from Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto in a radio appearance on 710 ESPN (link via 710’s Brandon Gustafson).
Dipoto acknowledged that Kelenic is getting “closer and closer” to the big leagues and that a promotion will come “sooner than later.” He made clear that the organization wanted to see him get some work against Triple-A pitching. There’s surely some truth to that, because if service time were the only issue, Kelenic could’ve been called up more than two weeks ago. But with the Mariners slumping as a team, even before being no-hit by Orioles lefty John Means, the GM also noted that Kelenic “might add a spark to our offense if we give him that opportunity.”
Dipoto has spoken in the past about the importance of taking 30 to 40 games to evaluate the club with which they broke camp, and we’re now into that territory with generally lackluster results from the offense. Fellow top outfield prospect Taylor Trammell is hitting just .156/.261/.338 with a 43.8 percent strikeout rate. Neither Jose Marmolejos or Sam Haggerty has hit especially well during their time in left field; Mariners left fielders are hitting just .204/.316/.357 on the whole.
The Mariners have gotten a nice bounceback effort from Mitch Haniger in right field, as he’s returned from injury to bat .254/.300/.534 in his first 130 plate appearances. Kyle Lewis missed the first several weeks of the year on the injured list and has struggled to a .181/.231/.388 slash. That’s not a pretty result, but it’s only 52 plate appearances and as the reigning AL Rookie of the Year, he has a longer leash than others might.
There’s no denying that left field has been a black hole on an already sub-par offensive club, however. And with Haniger, Ty France and Kyle Seager all slowing down to varying extents after hot starts to the season, the Mariners’ offense looks increasingly lifeless. As a team, the Mariners are batting only .201/.280/.359. They rank last in the Majors in average, 29th in OBP and 26th in slugging percentage.
Despite the putrid offensive showing, though, the pitching and good timing on some of the few hits the Mariners have put together has helped them to a 17-15 record. That they’re currently sitting in second place only serves to create additional temptation to take a look at Kelenic, who currently ranks as the game’s No. 4 overall prospect at Baseball America, FanGraphs and MLB.com. Plugging Kelenic into everyday at-bats in left field isn’t going to be a panacea for the team’s overarching offensive futility, even if he immediately meets expectations, but it’d be a step in the right direction.
Regaedless of when Kelenic debuts this year, the Mariners will be able to control him all the way through the 2027 season. A May promotion would put him on track to earn Super Two status, making him arbitration-eligible four times rather than the standard three, but his path to free agency has already been delayed.
Of course, his timeline to arbitration and to free agency could ultimately be rendered moot if the two sides eventually do come to terms on a long-term contract. Now-former Mariners president shined a spotlight on Kelenic by revealing earlier this year that he’d turned down a contract extension and would open the year in the minors. That comment prompted Kelenic and agent Brodie Scoffield to tell USA Today’s Bob Nightengale that the club had made clear to him that Kelenic would’ve been in the Majors last year had he taken the extension offer prior to the 2020 season. Many assumed that may have led to some burned bridges or harsh feelings, but Scoffield told MLBTR in the wake of that interview that Kelenic remained open to future proposals.
For now, the focus is on when Kelenic debuts in the Majors. If he meets or exceeds expectations at the big league level, however, it’d be a surprise if the team didn’t make another run at putting together an offer.