What differences have you seen from Jarred Kelenic this year, compared to last year?
Gonzalez: After messing with his mechanics a bunch last year, Kelenic has come back with another altered setup. On top of that, he’s tacked on even more muscle and has essentially relegated himself to a corner outfield role defensively.
For about the first five games of the year, he looked more so in line with his pre-September 2021 form than the one that helped lead the Mariners to a late postseason bid. But over the last five, the quality of his at-bats have improved significantly; he’s seeing the ball better, laying off unfavorable pitches and making good contact on a more consistent basis.
While in Chicago, he cranked his first home run of the year, which registered as one of the hardest hit (114 MPH) in MLB thus far—a great example that the tools are still very much there and very much loud. The notion that he’s a “bust” only 410 plate appearances into his major league career has been massively overblown and is incredibly silly.
How do you feel about JP Crawford’s new deal?
Preusser: After the Mariners declined to go in at all on this year’s historic class of top-tier free agent shortstops, it became clear that Jerry Dipoto’s off-season insistence that “J.P. is our shortstop” wasn’t just Dipotian doublespeak but a prelude to the contract he would sign prior to the start of this season, which only made sense for the team if they weren’t planning to upgrade at the position in free agency.
The Mariners like J.P. as a team leader, and he likes the role; he’s also a good in-clubhouse advertisement for the organization, as he largely credits his career revival with being traded and the improvements he’s made since coming to the Mariners, specifically in working with infield defensive guru Perry Hill, with whom he won a Gold Glove in 2020 and was a finalist in 2021. With the Mariners, J.P. has really settled into the best version of himself as a hitter: a high-contact, slash-and-dash, high-OBP type, and with Adam Frazier on board handling leadoff duties, J.P. is able to provide that on-base spark in the back half of the lineup. If there was any concern he’d coast after signing his contract extension, he’s pretty well put that to rest over the first two weeks of the season as he’s come in hot, co-leading the team with 11 hits, second in walks, and first in OBP; hilariously, he’s 8th in all of baseball in OBP despite slugging a good 50 points lower than the next closest batter.
What are the expectations for Julio Rodriguez as the No. 1 Mariners Prospect and No. 2 on the MLB prospect list?
Preusser: Juan Soto and Ronald Acuña Jr. are obviously amazing, generational talents, but they’ve pretty much wrecked the curve for what to expect from young international players in their debut seasons. That’s not to say there isn’t still time for Julio to catch up to the near four-win players they were in their first years, but so far Julio has looked about like one would expect for a player with zero Triple-A experience (on top of a minors career limited by an Olympic excursion, a worldwide pandemic, and a couple of injuries). He’s shown some vulnerability to being attacked with a steady diet of off-speed—over half the pitches he’s seen have been breaking balls, 42% of them sliders—and has also been the victim of one of the league’s more unfortunate rookie strike zones to start this season. But to be optimistic, because one cannot be anything but optimistic where Julio is concerned, the struggles at the plate have just led to an appreciation of his other tools—at 6’3” and 225 he’s nonetheless showed blazing speed, with a sprint speed ranking in the 99th percentile, and he’s also comported himself capably in center field, including making a highlight-reel diving catch.
Gonzalez: All signs point to him being a star in the making. Right now, though, he’s mostly going through the typical ebbs and flows we see from most rookies. Some of his struggles have been amplified by a handful of bad strike-three calls, but he’s certainly looked overmatched at times, particularly—and understandably—against Justin Verlander on Saturday. Nevertheless, there have been some major positives as well. The results should improve with time, especially when taking into account the fact he currently ranks in the 90th percentile in hard-hit rate. And with an 80-grade smile, he naturally injects a ton of electricity into an already fun clubhouse.
That’s about what I’d expect from him in 2022: some good, some bad and a whole lot of fun.