While Chris Sale has dominated most of the headlines this offseason, his addition to the Atlanta squad was preceded by another big one: outfielder Jarred Kelenic. The Braves took on some salary in order to obtain the former top prospect from the Seattle Mariners and are hoping that he can be their everyday solution to left field for the long haul. Kelenic was in town for BravesFest this past weekend and got to meet many of his new teammates for the first time.
“It was really fun to meet everybody. The biggest thing I’ve noticed right away is just the people, not only the guys on the team and staff, but the fans too,” Kelenic said. “They were so fun. We had an event last night and we were having such a great time. I’m so fired up to be here. I can’t wait to go to work and fight for these guys, this organization. I feel like I’ve only been a Brave for a month or so and I’m proud to be a Brave already. It’s the weirdest thing.”
High expectations have followed Kelenic ever since the New York Mets took him with the sixth overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft. He was the centerpiece of the deal that sent closer Edwin Díaz to New York, and the Mariners had hopes that he would eventually become a fixture in their outfield. His time in Seattle was rocky. He bounced back and forth between Triple-A and the majors in 2021 and 2022. He got off to a really good start in 2023, but slumped and then suffered a fractured foot after kicking a water cooler. This offseason’s trade to Atlanta provides Kelenic with an opportunity for a fresh start and puts him in a situation where he doesn’t have to feel the pressure of being a difference-maker. The Braves just need him to go out and play.
“I think the way that I’m approaching it is I know what I’m capable of doing. I have a pretty good routine down of what I need to do to make sure that I’m best prepared for the game,” Kelenic said. “I’m going to just stick to that and let the rest take care of itself. I’ve had a lot of expectations, people saying things and all that. I’m trying to just tune all that out because I’m just going to go out and be who I am.”
“I think this is the perfect place for a kid like that,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of Kelenic. “I know he came in a few days ago. He’s been hitting with Matt and some of those guys and they’ve been very impressed talking to them. I know it’s going to be the perfect place for a young tooled-up player like that. I think our lineup, our clubhouse, everything’s gonna be really really good for this kid.”
Snitker said that Kelenic will hit lower in the batting order and shouldn’t feel the need to have to carry the club. When the struggles come, he will have the opportunity to lean on a long list of veteran teammates.
“That’s one of the most exciting things for me is just to learn from them,” Kelenic said of his teammates. “I think there’s a couple guys in the lineup in particular that have a lot of similarities in terms of when stuff’s maybe not going right. To be able to just learn from those guys and be able to hit with them every single day in the cage and just pick their brain on stuff, I’m really looking forward to that.”
“Jarred’s really good. I saw him in the AL West, I could just see the talent coming from him,” Sean Murphy said when asked about his new teammate. “The bat speed is there, everything’s there. He’s started to put it together. It was starting to be really good last year and obviously he got hurt. I think the sky is the limit for him.”
One thing that should benefit Kelenic is getting to play half his games at Truist Park. Seattle’s T-Mobile Park is notoriously a pitcher-friendly environment. Kelenic played three games at Truist Park with the Mariners last May and went 4-for-12, including a homer into the Chop House seats in right off of Jared Shuster.
“I got one over there. Yeah, I got one in May when I was here,” Kelenic said.
“It’s better than Seattle, that’s for sure,” Kelenic said of Truist Park and the Chop House, which is inviting to lefty hitters. “Seattle ranks last, so I’m excited to hit here. I think the ball should hopefully fly a little bit more than it did in Seattle. I think the biggest thing is I just got to stay middle. I don’t want to try to pull that ball over there. I’ll be terrible.”
(Of course, offensive value is adjusted for park and hitting environment... but Kelenic will still probably feel good about the counting stats he can rack up in Atlanta vis-a-vis Seattle.)
While he tore up Triple-A in 2021 and 2022, Kelenic hasn’t had a lot of success at the major league level. He has an 85 wRC+ in 974 career plate appearances with a strikeout rate of 30.7%. He appeared to be on his way last season when he posted a 169 wRC+ last April. Being able to handle the highs and lows of an MLB season is key for Kelenic going forward. That comfort that the Braves hope he can provide is something that was missing during his time in Seattle.
“I just wasn’t consistent. I had a lot of external thoughts that were kind of messing with me. I had a lot of people in my ear and that’s something I’ve been working on the last year. I have a lot of things I’ve been working on this offseason that [are] going to allow me to be a little bit more consistent just with how my body moves. Being an athlete, that’s the biggest thing. I’m just going to go out and try to be as consistent as possible.”
Kelenic swiped a doughnut from the media room as he sat down to do his first in person interview. He appeared relaxed, at peace and thankful for a fresh start. The Braves have done a good job in the past of taking players from other organizations and helping them find another level of success. They will be hoping that Kelenic turns into another one of those success stories.