Arizona Fall League Stars to Watch: Jarred Kelenic

The Arizona Fall League is the best kept secret in baseball. Each September and October, for about $9 a game you can sit anywhere you want in an Arizona spring training stadium and watch tomorrow’s stars show off their skills. Last year, the talk of the Fall League was Vladimir Guerrero Jr. The year before? Ronald Acuña. This fall, top 10 overall prospects Jo Adell (Angels OF) and Royce Lewis (Twins SS) will take the field, as well as ace Forrest Whitley (Astros, back for a second AFL campaign) and last year’s #2 overall pick Joey Bart (Giants C). Yet another #1 prospect for his organization, Mariners outfielder Jarred Kelenic will make his AFL debut at just twenty years old, having completed a stellar year that has scouts thinking future All-Star.

Drafted sixth overall by the Mets last June (signed $1 million below slot value at $4.5 million), Kelenic is the first top 10 pick to ever come out of Wisconsin. He was the prize of the Robinson Cano/Edwin Diaz trade this offseason, and with a fluid lefty swing that makes for lots of hard contact, it’s easy to see why:

I caught the center fielder for three June games in the High-A California League when his Modesto Nuts ventured to San Jose. Standing about six feet tall, Kelenic has clearly hit the gym hard. He’s a strong, bow-legged kid, and his power shows up more in-game than in batting practice. I actually didn’t see him hit a single BP homer, but the positive there is that he was intently working on his line drive swing as opposed to just messing around with wild home run cuts. Kelenic showed strong wrists and a good feel for the barrel, peppering liners to all fields. When he took a fly ball approach in his last round, he banged several balls off the center field wall. He keeps things simple, foregoing a big leg kick or violent load, and has natural loft while being direct to the baseball.

What does all this add up to? In 117 games between A-Ball West Virginia, Modesto, and Double-A Arkansas, Kelenic hit .291 with 23 home runs, 20 steals in 27 tries, and a .904 OPS. He dominated the competition in A-Ball with a .981 OPS over 50 games, and held his own even in Double-A (where he is five years younger than the average player) with an .857 OPS.

As I show in my video breakdown above, Kelenic does struggle to either lay off or make contact with the slider inside. Three games is obviously a small sample size, but I think that weakness is the primary reason for his striking out 111 times in 117 games (22% of his plate appearances). That said, he very much has a feel for working an at-bat. He does not chase fastballs away and can fight off good breaking balls, resulting in 50 walks this year (10% of his PAs).

While some have painted Kelenic as an electric athlete, I don’t think he’s particularly fast or nimble. His is more of a workmanlike gait than a super-twitchy one: I clocked him at a pedestrian 4.14 seconds to first base. He’s still a pretty good athlete, a solid baserunner who plays hard. But think more Michael Conforto than Ronald Acuña. While you can probably get by with Kelenic at center field in his early-to-mid twenties, I think he should ultimately move to a corner. With an above average arm, he will be a solid right fielder.

Attitude wise, No.18 seems like someone who is putting in the work to get the most out of his body, and he plays with intensity. He really wants to beat the opponent, to the point of smashing his bat against the ground after a frustrating strikeout (seen at the 2-minute mark in my video). Kelenic is confident too, strutting around with swagger and singing along to Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On a Prayer” pregame.

When all is said and all is done, I see Kelenic as a more athletic David Peralta, or a higher OBP Eddie Rosario, hitting for a high average and 30 homers. With the backlash to the Mets trading for Cano and Diaz, I think his supporters have been overzealous in calling Kelenic the next young superstar, but he’s still a really good hitter whom I see making a big league All-Star team down the road.

So if you can make it out to Arizona for a weekend, be sure to catch Kelenic’s Peoria Javelinas—their season starts Sept.18 and ends Oct.25. If not, keep your eyes on AFL box scores, and let’s see if Kelenic continues to showcase All-Star potential. Mariners fans, you’re gonna love this kid.

Follow Jacob on Twitter @TheReelJZ