About a month ago, the Jarred Kelenic era officially began in Seattle. In his second game in the big leagues, Kelenic went 3-for-4 with three extra-base hits including a dinger, and the baseball world — including myself — went wild...like Bear Grylls wild. However, perhaps declaring Kelenic the next great Mariner was a little hasty.
This tweet is from two days ago. Kelenic has gone an additional seven at-bats without a hit since, dropping his average to .101 on the year. He’s currently on an 0-for-35 streak, the longest hitless streak in the Majors this season. He is ten at-bats without a hit away from being tied for the third-longest such streak in MLB history with Bill Bergen (1909), Dave Campbell (1973), and Craig Counsell (2011). So, what changed? Is he getting unlucky? Maybe the better question is: Was Kelenic ready for the big leagues? If we’re being honest, probably not.
Kelenic, 21, played just six games at the Triple-A level. Prior to that, he played in only 21 games at the Double-A level. Compared to other top prospects, Kelenic spent almost zero time developing at the higher levels of the minor leagues. 2015 NL Rookie of the Year and 2016 MVP Kris Bryant spent 145 games on either a Double-A or Triple-A roster prior to being called up to the Cubs. Ronald Acuna Jr. spent 134 games in those levels. Corey Seager, 163. These are all former number one overall prospects, and they all spent way more time in the minors than Kelenic did.
Now, I understand the argument of, “He’ll be fine, he just needs time.” I’m sure Kelenic will be fine — even great. He undoubtedly has the talent to succeed, but keeping him up during a streak like this doesn’t do anything for his confidence. There are some reasons the club might want to keep Kelenic at the Major League level, such as Kelenic potentially losing one of his option years should he spend 20 or more days in the Minors. Once a player has lost all of their option years, they must be designated for assignment, which would remove him from the team’s 40-man roster and send him through outright waivers. However, Kelenic has only used two of his four potential option years. Returning him to the farm system to continue his development wouldn’t become an issue until 2022 at the earliest.
At the very least, the Mariners could remove Kelenic from their everyday lineup. Since being called up, he has started all but two games for the Mariners, and played in all but one. Kelenic being limited to a pinch-hitting role for a few days out of each week would mean fewer at-bats during his current cold streak, but would still give manager Scott Servais opportunity to express confidence in his young star by having Kelenic come to the plate in late-inning, close game situations.
I like Kelenic, but this is more than just an unlucky stretch. Kelenic has a .400 batting average on balls in play thus far. That’s much, much higher than league average. He’s striking out in 28.4 percent of his at-bats. There is clearly something bigger at play than a cold streak that he can just snap out of. Something needs to be done by the Mariners organization to help Kelenic. Otherwise, he could wind up being just another great prospect who didn’t live up to the hype.