2:15pm: Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto confirmed in an appearance on 710 ESPN this morning that Kelenic will open the second half back with the big league club (link via 710’s Brandon Gustafson).
“We sent him back, he had a plan to work on,” said Dipoto. “Some of it was how to approach the game and some of it was more skills development-based, and he did everything we asked him to do. … We think it’s the right time to give it another shot. He’s just too talented to allow him to not gain this exposure and these at-bats at the big league level.”
Presumably, the Mariners will make a formal announcement and corresponding roster move tomorrow.
After much controversy earlier this year about service time manipulation and the resignation of Mariners President Kevin Mather, the star prospect was initially promoted in May. However, he struggled in his first 23 games to a line of .096/.185/.193, producing a measly wRC+ of 11. This slump caused the Mariners to option the rookie back to Triple-A Tacoma in June. But since that time, Kelenic has fared much better against Triple-A pitching, with a line of .306/.386/.622, for a wRC+ of 135. One very encouraging sign is Kelenic’s strikeout rate. After striking out in 28.3% of his plate appearances at the big league level, he has cut that essentially in half, to 14.3% since his demotion.
If Kelenic can carry that offensive production to the big league level, it would be a tremendous help to a Mariners team that finds itself in playoff contention, seven games behind the Astros in the AL West and 3.5 behind Oakland for the second wild card spot. The club has a record of 48-43, despite a run differential of -50, which is largely due to only scoring 4.08 runs per game, a rate which ranks 26th out of the 30 MLB clubs.
Kelenic’s initial delay in getting promoted had already prevented him from reaching free agency until after the 2027 season. But this second stint almost certainly prevents him from acquiring Super Two status and reaching arbitration after the 2023 season, which will suppress his earning power during his arbitration years.
With Mitch Haniger and Jake Fraley playing well, Kelenic could potentially take at-bats away from Shed Long Jr., who has limped to a subpar .188/.233/.400 line and wRC+ of 73 so far this year. If Kelenic can hit enough to stay in the mix, Seattle could be facing an outfield logjam in the future. Kyle Lewis tore his meniscus in June but was was playing well before then. And there is also the fast-approaching star prospect Julio Rodriguez, who was recently promoted to Double-A. Haniger is only controlled through 2022 and has often been mentioned as a potential trade chip for the Mariners, as they have been rebuilding in recent years. But that could change if the team continues playing well and maintains contender status.