At long last, minor-league baseball has returned. The minor-league season started this past Tuesday after the 2020 season was canceled because of the pandemic, and the start of the 2021 season was delayed for the same reason. Hundreds of minor leaguers returned to work and dozens of communities have live baseball again. Hooray for that.
Jarred Kelenic, the No. 3 prospect in baseball, wasted no time making headlines in the minors this year. The Seattle Mariners outfielder swatted two home runs in his Triple-A debut Thursday. Here’s the video, courtesy of Kelenic’s YouTube channel:
In 2019, the last minor-league season, the 21-year-old Kelenic authored a .291/.364/.540 batting line with 23 home runs in 117 games while climbing from Low-A to Double-A. The Mariners acquired Kelenic in the Robinson Canó/Edwin Díaz trade with the New York Mets. The Mets selected him with the No. 6 pick in the 2018 draft.
Of course, Kelenic’s major league debut has been a hot topic since. Mather confirmed Kelenic rejected a long-term contract extension last year, and because of that, the team would keep him in the minors until his free agency had been pushed back.
Now that we’re into May, Kelenic’s free agency has indeed been pushed back — he will now become a free agent during the 2027-28 offseason rather than then 2026-27 offseason — and his MLB debut could come any day. In fact, GM Jerry Dipoto said Thursday that it is “closer and closer” during an appearance on 710 Seattle’s Danny and Gallant. Here’s what Dipoto said about Kelenic:
“We’re getting closer and closer. I will say it’s some part because he’s making progress, it’s some part because it’s time to take a look at him, and that’s coming sooner than later. It’s also in some part that it might add a spark to our offense if we give him that opportunity … We want to see him start the season in Triple-A. We have not (picked) a date (to call him up). We’re going to tap into Jarred and give him an opportunity, but we are getting closer and closer.”
As a team, the Mariners are hitting .201/.280/.359 and averaging 3.97 runs per game, ninth fewest in baseball. Their outfielders are hitting .193/.280/.398 as a unit, though reigning AL Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis missed the first 17 games of the season with a knee injury. Still, Seattle’s offense has been dreadful () and Kelenic would help.
Our R.J. Anderson ranked Kelenic the No. 3 prospect in baseball prior to the season. Here’s his scouting report:
Kelenic probably would’ve made his big-league debut in 2020 with a normal season. Alas, he’ll have to wait until 2021. Kelenic has the means to make up for lost time; he’s an advanced hitter who should contribute across the triple-slash categories. He has a simple, in-control swing that nonetheless permits him to generate easy, above-average power. Kelenic isn’t going to win a Gold Glove in center field, in all likelihood, but he’s playable there and may improve. As an added bonus, he should be able to steal a handful (or two) of bases a year as well.
The major season runs 186 days, but only 172 days are required to receive credit for a full year of service time. All it takes is 15 days in the minors to delay a prospect’s free agency and steal an extra year of team control, which the Mariners have already done with Kelenic this year.
The MLBPA figures to file a grievance against the Mariners on Kelenic’s behalf given Mather’s comments.. In Kelenic’s case, a team executive essentially admitted he would be held down to delay his free agency.
The Mariners begin a five-game, six-day road trip Friday night. If they want Kelenic to make his MLB debut at home at T-Mobile Park, he’ll have to wait until at least next Thursday, when the club begins a seven-game homestand.
At 17-15, the Mariners are 1 1/2 games behind the Athletics in the NL West. Seattle has not been to the postseason since 2001, Ichiro Suzuki’s rookie year. It is the longest postseason drought in North American pro sports.