PEORIA, Ariz. — As the ball launched off the barrel of his matte gray Victus bat, Jarred Kelenic recognized that the topspin line drive wasn’t going to be caught and exploded out of the batter’s box.

He had extra bases on his mind. Yes, it was a sure double that scored Zach DeLoach from first base, but Kelenic wanted more. He always wants more.

“I’m always going to push for that extra base,” he said. “It’s how I play.”

But the hopes of a second triple this spring were not realized as Royals right fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., a former Gold Glove winner, corralled the ball quickly in the corner and fired it back in, forcing Kelenic to settle for his second double of the spring.

The Seattle Mariners conducted Spring Training workouts Sunday, Feb 19, 2023 at the Peoria Sports Complex, in Peoria, AZ. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)

As the crowd of 6,905 applauded the effort and yet another hit this spring, Kaden Polcovich appeared from the dugout as a pinch runner. Kelenic’s Tuesday was done. He finished 1-for-3 with hard ground balls in his previous two plate appearance. All three of the balls he put in play had exit velocities over 100 mph.

Officially, he now has a .448/.484/1.000 slash line this spring in 11 games. In 31 plate appearances, he has 13 hits, including two doubles, a triple, four homers with eight runs scored, nine RBI, three stolen bases, two walks and six strikeouts.


Kelenic’s success this spring has already been written about often. And yet, it screams for more attention. Perhaps the excused absences of Julio Rodriguez, Teoscar Hernandez and Eugenio Suarez at the World Baseball Classic have left the spotlight searching for someone that is performing.

It can’t help but find Kelenic.

Early on, there seemed to be cautious if not calculated reticence to overemphasize the in-game results.

“Keep in mind it’s spring training,” manager Scott Servais said on the morning of March 6. “It’s a little bit different when the lights are on and they start keeping track of everything, but I do like where he’s at.”

It was a logical plan considering all that has transpired with Kelenic and the Mariners over the past few seasons, going from a can’t-miss prospect to a cautionary tale. So much was expected initially, so much was demanded from his previous representatives and so little has been realized from a player that figured so greatly into their plans.

But with each game, the Mariners have allowed themselves to believe that this version of Kelenic — under control with his emotions, patient in his approach, grudgingly accepting of some failure — has some staying power.

“He’s swinging the bat great, he’s in a good head space,” Servais said after Kelenic tripled Saturday. “He’s got a lot of confidence, and we’re gonna need him.”


It’s been said far too many times in the past that spring training results mean nothing in the regular season. But for Kelenic, who with the blessing of the front office, went outside of the organization to get help in revamping his setup, swing and approach, these “meaningless” results at least provide positive feedback and boost faith in the changes he knew needed to make.

No matter how much a player espouses belief in the “process” aspect of baseball, positives results — traditional counting stats or Statcast data like exit velocity — still provide a level of confidence.

Kelenic believed in the changes before he arrived at spring training. He’s trying to make others believe in them as well.

“I know what I’m doing,” he said. “I’ve got an idea of like what gets my swing right. I know what I need to do to get it ready. I’ve just got my confidence back in who I am as a player, as a person. I’m just going to be unapologetically myself out there.”

Kelenic won’t apologize for his intensity in pregame workouts or in-game actions. Sure, maybe he could relax a little bit more. But he swears that just because he isn’t smiling all the time like Rodriguez or Suarez, it doesn’t mean he isn’t having fun. Playing aggressive, attacking game situations without hesitation and treating every play like it’s the postseason is his way of having fun.

“I don’t think he gets enough credit — this guy plays hard all the time,” Servais said. “He runs the bases hard. He’s a very aggressive player. He’s a good defender. He checks all the boxes. And if the hit tool comes around, he’s got chance to be a dynamic player.”


Ah, the hit tool. That’s the final and biggest step. Keeping his bubbling intensity under control while at the plate hasn’t been easy. The white-hot desire to annihilate a pitch into the sun has often overwhelmed the simple understanding of hitting it hard.

That growth was highlighted in Monday’s game vs. the Angels.

Leading off the second inning vs. lefty Tucker Davidson, Kelenic fell behind 1-2 on the first three pitches. He took his allotted timeout, took two deep breaths and got into the batter’s box, expecting another breaking ball. He got it. Instead of trying to crush it over the scoreboard in right-center, he made a simple swing and sent it up the middle for a single.

“I’m just trying to stay inside the baseball and work up the middle of the field,” he said. “And it just gives me a room for error, especially on off-speed pitches like that.”

In his second at-bat of the game, leading off the fourth inning, he lined a single up the middle off right-hander Jimmy Herget.

“He’s not gotten away from what his intent was when he came into camp on things you want to change,” Servais said. “He’s in control of his emotions better than they’ve ever been. I think we can all see that. He’s engaging with his teammates. He’s being normal. He isn’t trying to do too much. He’s not trying to be somebody he’s not. He’s just fitting in to be a good player.”


Really that’s all the Mariners, who were complicit in overstimulating the hype surrounding him as a prospect in 2021, need from Kelenic — be a good productive player this season. They aren’t asking him to do what Rodriguez did. They don’t expect that. They plan to protect him against lefties. They want him to find some level of consistent success and grow from there.

“The skill set’s always been there,” Servais said. “He has made some nice adjustments. He’s not swinging too hard. He’s not trying to do too much. He’s still gonna chase some pitches, everybody does. But he’s not getting caught up into that.”

There’s noticeable growth in Kelenic. Maturation and self-realization like baseball development aren’t linear or on a specific timetable, particularly in the cutthroat world of professional sports.

As he looked around his office Tuesday morning, nodding directly at a group of aspiring student journalists from Washington State University’s Murrow College, who were there covering Mariners workouts for the day, Servais grew philosophical. He’s had a lot of time to think about Kelenic and his path to that moment and the hopeful direction ahead.  

“It takes a while for young 20-year-olds to figure out who they are,” he said, drawing chuckles. “There’s no difference if they sit in here or if they play this game. There really isn’t. We’ve talked about his identity on the field, but how about who he is as a person? It’s the same thing. It takes time. And then you put him under the bright lights and the big microscope that you’re under here at the big-league level, it’s hard, especially when things don’t go your way. He’s maturing on and off the field.”