We are about a week into the Cactus League season and one topic has generated more Mariners discussion than all other combined: should Jarred Kelenic make the Opening Day roster?
Mariners’ fans are desperate for a reason to rush the rebuild as close to the present as possible and are willing to play chicken with the best prospect in the system to do so. The fan sentiment is growing and a loud portion of this fanbase is clamoring for the Mariners to put top prospect Jarred Kelenic on the Opening Day roster. That is utter nonsense.
Let’s start by acknowledging a few things. First, I’ll admit that Kelenic is having a really solid spring training. We have watched just about everything he has to offer; power, speed, defense, and offensive approach beyond his years.
Kelenic has appeared in 7 games and in 17 plate appearances, he has posted a .357/.471/.643 and hit his first home run of the spring yesterday. While those numbers are great, it is worth noting that baseball-reference has given Kelenic an opponent’s score of 5.9, meaning the level of competition he has faced landed somewhere between High-A and AA, two levels Kelenic is familiar with.
Second, anything that gets fans excited about the Mariners is a good thing. The team doesn’t have a lot of goodwill with the casual baseball fan and Kelenic is an exciting player that is easy to root for and market. And here is where this should end. However, the desire to see a guy play on TV every day is not a valid reason for pushing a 20-year-old to the big leagues.
At the end of the day, people want Kelenic on the big league roster for selfish reasons. This is strikingly similar to the previous regime’s lack of understanding in regards to player development. The simple fact of the matter is that Kelenic isn’t ready to be an everyday MLB player and there is nothing that he can do in the Cactus League to prove it.
Let’s all take a minute and remember that less than one year ago, Kelenic was playing centerfield for the West Virginia Power, an A-ball team. While Kelenic’s season was, overall, a major success, there are red flags that should make it clear that Kelenic needs more time in the minors.
Among these signs are the 26% K rate in High-A Modesto and the .315 OBP in AA. Speaking of AA, did you know that Kelenic has just 92 PAs at the level? By comparison, Ronald Acuna Jr. had 286 PAs in AA and an additional 344 PAs in AAA before making his MLB debut.
Juan Soto is an exception to the rule as a player who can make the jump straight from the low minors to the big leagues. Kelenic isn’t Juan Soto, or at least isn’t yet. Kelenic’s path to the big leagues is his own and trying to force another player’s path on him is not only wrong, but it is also irresponsible.
Rushing Kelenic to the big leagues is exactly the 100% fan service type of move that the Mariners used to pull and the results of such moves were bad. Seattle cannot and will not make the mistakes of the Jack Zduriencik era. They are too smart and have worked too hard to build their core the right way to even risk the possibility that they could rush a potential franchise-altering player to the big leagues.
Yes, Jarred Kelenic is a fun player and getting to see him in the big leagues will be awesome. But starting him there just to see it 4 months sooner than you may other get too isn’t just foolish, it is irresponsible to the career of Jarred Kelenic.