PEORIA, Ariz — The Mets’ nightmare makes comments like, “It is super realistic” that he will be in the majors before his 21st birthday and that his goal is “to be the face of baseball” in a casual manner, as if discussing the best lunch options near the Mariners’ spring training complex.
Yet even in off-hand remarks, Jarred Kelenic has revealed his ambition, confidence and the scope of how miserable this could all turn out for the Mets.
Kelenic insists, “I don’t have any hard feelings” that the Mets traded him five months after taking him with the sixth pick in the 2018 draft. However, he reads Twitter. Thus, he is aware of the mounting dread among Mets fans that he will soon be part of a sentence with Nolan Ryan and Amos Otis for the most regrettable trades of youngsters in franchise history.
In a recent conversation, Brodie Van Wagenen said he will not judge his administration by one trade, and there is interconnectivity to transactions. Still, the biggest move of his tenure as Mets GM has, to date, been the worst — with the potential to grow more and more devastating.
What can salvage it? If Robinson Cano reverses his Fregosian 2019. If Edwin Diaz can close again like 2018. If Kelenic does not become the face of baseball.
Yet, it already is obvious the Mets undersold Kelenic. Because they believed Cano had plenty left. Because they thought they were good enough to do what only a high-end contender should — give up major assets for a reliever. And because they did not have full appreciation of Kelenic.
Any player can be traded. Heck, if the Dodgers offer Cody Bellinger and Walker Buehler, the Angels have to at least convene a meeting about Mike Trout. But the art of trading is to move pieces at maximum value. And if the Mets had Kelenic this past offseason they would have moved to front of the line for Mookie Betts, Francisco Lindor or Nolan Arenado.
Or if they had him, they could be imagining him joining Pete Alonso for a decade and making life easier if Michael Conforto leaves in free agency following next season.
For Kelenic blossomed from a well-regarded prospect to elite away from the Mets. He excelled at three levels last year, soaring all the way to Double-A in his first full pro season. As this season opens, he ranks anywhere from the game’s seventh- to the 11th-best prospect by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, ESPN and MLB Pipeline.
“I don’t want to put expectations on him that are unrealistic,” Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto said. “But I don’t know what realistic is with him. His ceiling is incredibly high. The combination of talent and focus is extreme. I don’t want to guess what 15 years out looks like for Jarred Kelenic, but we think it looks pretty special.”
This is not just Mariner spin. One scout called Kelenic the best young hitter in the Cactus League — everyone spoken to agreed he was a baseball gym rat with not only substantial hitting and power potential, but advanced feel for the strike zone. One scout broke him down this way: “Plus instincts and feel for the game. He is way ahead of his age with his feel for hitting. He is a solid-plus runner. A solid defender, who can play center field. He’s a very good baserunner. He plays above his age.”
Ask for comps and executives and scouts say you can dream on Jim Edmonds, Josh Hamilton, Grady Sizemore and Juan Soto — which is why he is the Mets’ nightmare.
Mariners manager Scott Servais cautioned that when he was a Rangers executive he would have bet on Jurickson Profar, who was the majors’ consensus No. 1 prospect going into 2013 and has yet to come near fulfilling that designation. I remember Yankees camps in the early 1990s when Ruben Rivera was compared to Mickey Mantle.
Kelenic likely will open 2020 at Double-A (he had just 21 games there last season), though the lefty swinger said he believes, “I can go up and play in the big leagues tomorrow.”
Confidence is not an issue, though Seattle officials insist he also is a good teammate, and when Kelenic proclaims he wants to be the face of baseball, he said he wants to do it like Trout and “be as good a person and teammate off the field as on.”
“I’m never doing anything in life to be average,” Kelenic said. “Whether it is baseball or being a son, a friend, a brother, a boyfriend. It doesn’t matter. I do not want to be average at anything I do. Baseball is something I take very, very seriously. When I go into this, I never tell myself I want to be average. I want to be the face of baseball.”
The sooner, the better. Kelenic turns 21 on July 16 and “my No. 1 goal” is to be in the majors before then.” He is aware players who excel in their age-20 season tend to go on to great careers — a list that includes Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez, who also did it for the Mariners.
Can Kelenic join that Mariners list? If so, that would be a Mets nightmare.
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