Age is more than just a number with Jarred Kelenic
Some Mariners fans may not want to hear it anymore. But Jarred Kelenic's age does matter when assessing his development.
It’s what Jarred Kelenic supporters often say when defending the tumultuous beginning to his big-league career. But some Seattle Mariners fans are tired of hearing about Kelenic’s age. To this subset of Seattle’s fan base, 23-years-old isn’t young.
Consider this. Only 28 of the 100 names on the current MLB Pipeline top prospect list are the same age or older than Kelenic and he debuted two seasons ago. Furthermore, just seven players, who were 22-or-younger during the last two seasons, appeared in more games than the Wisconsin native did.
Most MLB games by 22-and-unders (2021-22)
Luis García - 163
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. - 161
Geraldo Perdomo - 159
Wander Franco - 153
Juan Soto - 151
Bobby Witt - 150
Dylan Carlson - 149
Jarred Kelenic - 147
Julio Rodríguez - 132
Fernando Tatis Jr. - 130
Granted, everyone except Geraldo Perdomo delivered significantly better results than Kelenic has to date. However, this doesn’t erase the reality he’s been one of the youngest position players in MLB during his brief career.
Still, it’s understandable how a Kelenic skeptic could grow weary of the “but he’s young” narrative. After all, they just witnessed Julio Rodríguez win the 2022 AL Rookie of the Year award as a 21-year-old. Not only was Rodríguez the league’s top rookie, he has ascended to “face of the franchise” status.
It’s true Rodríguez has been everything Mariners fans hoped Kelenic might be and more. But he’s an outlier, not the norm. From my perspective, the notion that Jarred’s youth is no longer relevant because Julio became a superstar at 21 is misguided. Please give me a chance to explain my reasoning.
Before devolving into the “dumb blogger” you’re reading today, I served 33 years in the U.S. Navy. About 85-percent of my career was spent performing in a variety of leadership roles at sea and ashore. My final assignment: Commanding Officer of a 130-person unit at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington. Why share background info better suited for a LinkedIn bio than a baseball newsletter?
The Navy entrusted me with leading a command responsible for training young Sailors and Marines before they ultimately joined the fleet. Over 3,000 students passed through our doors annually. Therefore, I have a solid understanding of what it takes to mentor young people expected to perform at a high level under stressful circumstances.
How young? Predominantly 22-and-under, just like Kelenic, Rodríguez, and many other MLB prospects. Maturity levels varied from old souls in youthful bodies to the naïve and immature. An understandable diversity considering the wide-ranging socioeconomic backgrounds making up our military.
Some Sailors and Marines were the product of a conventional nuclear family; others were raised in a single-parent setting or by grandparents. There were students with relatives who were current or former service members. Many more had no exposure to a military setting until arriving at boot camp.
Family ties can also play a role in a baseball player’s development. Half of the youngsters from our preceding list have relatives with MLB experience - Luis García, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Wander Franco, Bobby Witt, and Fernando Tatis Jr.. Not only did these players have a genetic edge over the competition, people in their life knew how to prepare them to be a professional athlete.
Without doubt, origin stories shaped the Sailors and Marines arriving at our command. Particularly, their maturity and ability to deal with setbacks or adversity. A few were instant rock stars. The rest took varying amounts of time to get their bearings before finally developing into whatever they were destined to become.
Can’t the same be said about MLB prospects?
I believe the answer is yes. That’s why comparing the development of one prospect to another is fraught with risk. Especially when Rodríguez is the measuring stick. Julio enjoyed the kind of rookie season Hall of Famers have. We shouldn’t be holding anyone in the Mariners organization to this standard.
As with those Sailors and Marines from Whidbey Island, patiently steering Kelenic towards becoming the best version of himself will inevitably benefit him and the organization. Whether Kelenic can eventually harness his talent will largely depend on his maturity and the ability to deal with setbacks and adversity. That’s something only he can unlock.
Yes, at some point Kelenic must figure it out. Otherwise, the Mariners will be forced to move on from the sixth overall pick of the 2018 draft. But now isn’t the time to close the book on a 23-year-old still possessing the potential to have a very bright future.
My Oh My…
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