Jarred Kelenic shows how difficult it can be to assess prospects
ATLANTA — When the Mariners late Friday night ended the longest playoff drought in North America’s four major sports leagues, it officially became a possibility: That the final board appearance of this MLB season could be Jarred Kelenic versus Edwin Diaz.
Yes, I tend to think of the weird and the dramatic – but think of the theater if that super long shot comes to fruition. Of course, it’s a lot of miles from here to there, especially since the Mariners are as wildcards and, therefore, will have to play an extra round while the Mets still battle the Braves to avoid the same complication. .
But that Kelenic is in play to be part of Seattle’s run — wherever it ends — is another reminder that success is neither assured for top prospects nor linear in determining whether he’ll satisfy their touts.
There were so many twists and turns and ratings and re-ratings of the December 2018 trade that sent Kelenic to the Mariners while the Mets received Diaz plus Robinson Cano’s contract and reputation. Diaz, who will enter free agency this offseason, improved the end of the Mets’ deal by coming full circle: Much like in his Mariners final season, 2018, Diaz is the majors’ most dominant reliever.
Kelenic, who was opted for the minors twice this season amid batting heavy failure, returned on September 21 and became the regular centre-back when Julio Rodriguez was placed on the injured list two days later with a strained lower back. So Kelenic was basically stepping in for the player who became what Kelenic was meant to be. Kelenic arrived in the majors in 2020 at 21 with a reputation beyond doubt, but all he has done since then is pile up doubt upon doubt. Rodriguez arrived this year in his 21-year-old season and will likely be the AL Rookie of the Year. Seattle has already signed him to a seven-year, $119.3 million extension that can last many more years and dollars.
Rodriguez is expected to return for the playoffs. And it looks like he’ll be joined in the outfield by Kelenic, who will move to left field. Kelenic was drafted to the minors most recently in August, when he had a .167 career batting average and 30.6 strikeout percentage in 500 major league plate appearances. In eight games since returning with a less pronounced leg kick, Kelenic was hitting .267 with three doubles, three home runs and a 21.2 percent strikeout rate.
It’s a small sample size, but one that’s almost certainly going to give Kelenic the playoff beats as, at a minimum, the left-handed swinger in a left-field squad. And it should be noted that Kelenic was born the same year (1999) as Mets rookies Brett Baty and Mark Vientos – so there’s still a lot to learn about Kelenic.
There’s also a lot to learn about Baty and Vientos, by the way – and now about Francisco Alvarez. Neither Baty nor Vientos wowed in very limited samples. Baty hit two home runs and a .586 OPS in 42 plate appearances before tearing a ligament in his thumb. Vientos had a homer and .541 OPS in 34 plate appearances on Saturday, although it sometimes looks like manager Buck Showalter looked to the bench in hopes of seeing Benny Agbayani before using Vientos. Alvarez was 0-for-4 in his major league debut on Friday, hitting as the go-ahead was loaded with the bases loaded and a ninth-inning out against Kenley Jansen in the Mets’ 5-2 loss to the Braves. Alvarez will have more chances in the final days to see if he should be placed on the playoff roster.
That’s far too short a time to decide anything – and that would also have been true had Baty, Vientos and Alvarez starred in cameos this year. But it’s hard to miss that one of the reasons the Braves reunited with the Mets this season and tied for the top of the NL East heading into the teams’ game on Saturday night was that Michael Harris II and Spencer Strider were stars. Atlanta minor league snapshots – likely to finish 1-2 in some form for NL Rookie of the Year.
The Mets understandably (and rightly) downplay results based on so little information. Perhaps their true feelings were expressed at the trade deadline when they didn’t deal with any of their top prospects – including Baty, Vientos and Alvarez – despite being a winning team now. In part, that’s because Steve Cohen’s stated goal across the organization is to be more than a winning team now.
The top of the Mets farm system is position-heavy, with Alvarez, Baty and Vientos plus Ronny Mauricio and Alex Ramirez and now top picks of 2022 Kevin Parada and Jett Williams.
What comes next is seeing what the Mets think about promoting Alvarez, Baty and Vientos as they prepare for 2023. For example, do they think about Alvarez’s defensive chops at receiver enough to try to trade James McCann or Tomas Nido – who are offensively challenged, but defensively strong – and go with Alvarez as receiver/DH to start next year? Will they keep McCann and Nido and make Alvarez mostly a DH? Will they keep both and let Alvarez get more Triple-A seasoning?
Is Baty ready to turn Eduardo Escobar into a super-sub or a trade chip? Is Vientos the complementary right bat that, say, Darin Ruf failed to be?
Again, nothing is guaranteed, not everything is linear. Baltimore’s Adley Rutschman and Rodriguez honored their ranking of the top two preseason prospects by Baseball America with immediate All-Star rounds in 2022. Kansas City’s Bobby Witt Jr. and Detroit’s Riley Greene (who were 3-4) were fine. Detroit’s Spencer Torkelson, No. 5 with preseason comparisons to Paul Konerko, was a disaster.
Kelenic was the No. 4 prospect at the start of last season. And we’re still trying to figure out exactly who he is.