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Matt Calkins: Jarred Kelenic’s Mariners demotion was necessary, and one that can be beneficial with some patience

UPDATED: Tue., June 8, 2021

Seattle Mariners' Jarred Kelenic reacts after striking out against theTexas Rangers in a baseball game Saturday, May 29, 2021, in Seattle.   (Elaine Thompson)
Seattle Mariners' Jarred Kelenic reacts after striking out against theTexas Rangers in a baseball game Saturday, May 29, 2021, in Seattle.  (Elaine Thompson)
By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

This is just a blip, yeah?

A temporary skid for a young prospect shouldering two tons of expectations.

No reason to worry that the hoopla may have vastly exceeded the hitting ability, right?

Right?!

The Mariners optioned 21-year-old outfielder Jarred Kelenic to Class AAA Tacoma on Monday. The demotion comes as the highly touted prospect (ranked fourth in MLB according to mlb.com) is stuck in an 0-for-39 slump, which has brought his batting average down to .096.

His confidence appears akin to a goldfish among sharks. He isn’t swinging so much as guessing. But this is all part of the big-league adjustment process, no?

I wrote as much a couple weeks ago when Kelenic was hitting .157 with a .218 on-base percentage and a .314 slugging percentage through 13 games. His current .096/.185/.193 slash is through 23 games.

Struggling early is a common experience for youngsters regardless of their ability. Ken Griffey Jr’s batting average was .189 through his first 14 games. Mike Trout’s was .157 through his first 16.

This isn’t nearly enough of a sample size to make any long-term judgments … but it certainly isn’t good.

Yes, there have been moments when Kelenic made solid contact, only to watch the ball line into the glove of an MLB infielder. His 0-for-5 outing vs. the A’s last month — where this slump really began — was a prime example, as he may have had three hits had those balls veered two or three feet to the left or right.

But there have also been a whole lot of whiffs.

In a five-game stretch from May 31 to June 5, Kelenic struck out 12 times in 21 plate appearances. This included three consecutive games in which he was fanned three times each. Did the Mariners bring him up too soon? Maybe. Although there was (correct) speculation that they would have brought him up sooner if not for service-time conditions that will keep him under club control longer.

Is it fair to worry? Considering the flops this organization has had, it’s hard to say “no” to that. But it’s not logical to get too worked up yet.

Kelenic may be the most hyped prospect the M’s have had in years. And when your organization hasn’t made the playoffs since 2001, folks will tend to slap the “savior” label on you. Throw in the fact that he didn’t get to play in the minors last season due to COVID-19, and the conditions for Kelenic’s debut were far from ideal.

“He certainly is struggling right now. He is putting a little bit of pressure on himself, like all guys do when they struggle. It’s no different than anybody else,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said Sunday (he was not made available Monday, as the team has the day off). “He’s a good baseball player. He’s just not getting a whole lot of hits, and a lot of luck.”

This was a necessary demotion, and one that could be beneficial. It’s a chance for Kelenic to take a breath and not feel as though he has to single-handedly save this franchise. He is only 21. He can mash in Tacoma for a few weeks (he hit .370/.414/.630 in the six games he played there this year) and get his mind and swing right.

Of course, one never really knows if the difference between Class AAA pitching and MLB pitching will be an enduring hurdle for a talented prospect. I remember covering Angels infielder Brandon Wood when he led all of baseball in home runs while at Class A Rancho Cucamonga. The hype for him was a mountain to Kelenic’s molehill. He ended up hitting .186 for his career with a -3.8 WAR.

This is baseball, where you take educated guesses on players you hope will bloom in two, three, five years — often longer. One knows only so much based on what they see at the lower levels.

Dustin Ackley was the second overall pick in the draft and never made an All-Star Game. Mike Piazza, a Hall of Famer, was picked in the 62nd round.

This is a wait-and-see situation for Kelenic. The start to his MLB career was obviously inauspicious, but shouldn’t spike anxiety levels just yet.

This is where everybody needs to be patient. Especially Jarred Kelenic.

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