Jarred Kelenic is No. 11 on our 2020 Top 100 Prospects list, and his bat is the main reason why. As Eric Longenhagen wrote in the 20-year-old outfielder’s scouting profile, “[H]e’s been one of the — if not the — best hitters his age from the time scouts began to see him.” The New York Mets selected Kelenic sixth overall in the 2018 draft out of a Waukesha, Wisconsin high school, then shipped him to the Seattle Mariners in the seven-player mega-deal headlined by Robinson Cano.
Kelenic possesses marquee potential. In 500 plate appearances last year, split between three levels, he slashed a healthy .291/.364/.540, with 23 home runs. Moreover, Kelenic spent the final three weeks in Double-A, a heady accomplishment for a prep-draftee playing in his first full professional season.
I caught up to the fast-tracking youngster two weekends ago as he was taking part in big-league camp. Our conversation began with one of my favorite ice-breaker questions: Do you view hitting as more of an art, or more of a science?
“I think it’s an art,” answered Kellenic. “It’s something that’s developed over time. Kind of like a painting. It takes time to get all of the detail. Hitting is the same way.”
Kelenic credits much of his development to his father, Tom, and to a former minor-league catcher who throws him batting practice back home in Wisconsin. The latter owns STIKS Academy and Sports Training, and according to Kelenic, Sean Smith knows his swing just as well as he does.
Longenhagen called Kelenic’s left-handed stroke “short to the ball,” and the player himself had much the same description when asked to describe his M.O. at the dish.
“My swing is very short, and very compact,” he told me. “My approach is to stay the other way, and just react to pitches that are in. I’m basically trying to keep my hands inside the baseball. The way my swing works, if I keep my hands inside, they’ll automatically take the ball to right when the pitch is in.”
He’ll also take the ball over the fence, as evidenced by aforementioned 23 bombs. They were no aberration. Longenhagen gave Kelenic’s raw power a 60/60 grade, and the Seattle prospect was a frequent participant in home-run derbies coming up through the amateur ranks.
Going yard is an afterthought once the game starts. Asked to further describe his approach, Kelenic said that while he works on expanding what pitches he can handle, he endeavors to stay committed to his wheel house — regardless of the count — and adjusts from there. But while he professes to primarily “look for a pitch the size of a beach ball right down the middle,” he isn’t chasing taters.
“I’m never trying to hit home runs,” said Kelenic. “If I stay with my approach to left-center… that’s where I’m going to be at my best. To me, hitting is about who is going to be the most committed to his plan. Whatever that plan is, when in doubt, stick to it. That’s the art of hitting.”
Brian Dozier is a Padre now, having signed with San Diego in late February. Once baseball gets back underway, this will be the 32-year-old’s second full season in the National League. Dozier was dealt from the Minnesota Twins to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the 2018 trade deadline, then spent last year with the World Series-winning Washington Nationals.
A few weeks ago, I asked Dozier if he’s found playing in the NL to be much different than doing so in the American League. His response segued into a role he’s failed to embrace.
“For me personally, the leagues are extremely different,” Dozier told me. “For seven years in a row, in Minnesota, I didn’t even have to look at a lineup. I pretty much led off every game, and could just roll with that. Transitioning to the Dodgers… we had a lot of great players, so everyone kind of platooned. I didn’t care too much for that. I like to play. It keeps you locked in. Plus, I’m a firm believer that pinch-hitting is the toughest thing to do in the game of baseball.”
It’s something he rarely did as a Twin. Prior to changing leagues, Dozier was 0 for 2 with a pair of walks as a pinch-hitter. Since joining LA, and then Washington, he’s 4 for 16 — three singles and a double — plus two walks and a HBP.
The numbers themselves aren’t necessarily all that bad. The comfort level that comes with them are… not good. I asked the veteran infielder why he considers pinch-hitting so difficult.
“Just because you’re not in the flow of the game,” Dozier said. “You’re cold. You try to warm up — everything is geared toward the cage you’re hitting in — and then all of a sudden you’re expected to do your job in one at bat. That’s really tough to do.”
Playing a bit of the devil’s advocate, I countered that a hitter leading off a game — something Dozier has done nearly 2,500 times — is also going into an a bat cold. How is pinch-hitting any different?
“Great question,” responded Dozier. “The first batter of the game, that’s always the starting pitcher. When you’re pinch-hitting, it’s a reliever the majority of the time, and there are often runners on base. So there’s a lot that’s different. But as far as leading off the game… yes, that would be the only comparison [to pinch-hitting].
Dozier has slashed .271/.310/.517 in 538 plate appearances while leading off a game. He has 28 first-inning leadoff home runs.
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
When Cody Thomas was featured in a September 2017 installment of Sunday Notes, he was playing for the Dodgers low-A affiliate, the Great Lakes Loons. Included in that column were references to Thomas having a degree in business management from the University of Oklahoma, and how he had spent two seasons as the Sooners’ backup quarterback.
A few short years later, the 25-year-old outfielder is emerging as a dark horse prospect in one of baseball’s best farm systems. Thomas homered 23 times in Double-A last season, and this spring he went deep five times while putting up a 1.424 OPS in 23 plate appearances.
Thomas worked on improving his bat path this offseason, and a more subtle adjustment has proven every bit as helpful. It’s not something you’d notice watching him hit.
“I changed my grip on the bat a little,” explained Thomas. “I’m lining up my middle knuckles up now. Before, my top hand was kind of wrapped over, which led me to be a little too strong with my top hand, and roll over a little bit earlier than I would have liked. I think having this enables me to use my wrists better. It helps me create more whip, and stay inside the ball a little bit longer.”
Thomas demonstrated, showing how his top hand was cocked inward, just enough to where the knuckles on each hand weren’t perfectly aligned. He made the change during the first week of spring training, and while it’s wholly indistinguishable to fans in the stands, he can feel the difference.
I recently asked Craig Counsell if there’s any correlation between a hitter’s talent level and the number of at bats he needs to get ready for the season. The Milwaukee Brewers manager chewed on the question for a few seconds, then responded as follows:
“There’s probably some correlation. I don’t know if there’s anything scientific on that — or objective on that — but I think it’s logical. If you’re really good, you need fewer to be ready, because you’re already really good.”
Carter Stewart made his initial first-team appearance for the SoftBank Hawks on Friday. [NPB teams are currently playing practice games in empty stadiums.] The 20-year-old right-hander walked five, fanned five, and allowed one run over five innings. Stewart signed with SoftBank after eschewing a contract offer from the Atlanta Braves, who’d taken him eighth overall in the 2018 draft.
Emma Tiedemann has been hired as the new play-by-play voice of Boston’s Double-A Eastern League affiliate, the Portland Sea Dogs (a total of 133 people applied for the position). A graduate of the University of Missouri, Tiedemann spent the last two seasons calling games for the South Atlantic League’s Lexington Legends.
Anders Jorstad has been hired as the new play-by-play voice of Baltimore’s high-A affiliate, the Frederick Keys. A graduate of Hofstra University, Jorstad spent last season calling games for the Carolina League’s Lynchburg Hillcats.
Jarrod Patterson, who played for the Detroit Tigers and the Kansas City Royals for parts of the 2001 and 2003 seasons, died earlier this month at age 46. An infielder, Patterson recorded 15 career hits. His two home runs came off of Curt Schilling and Brad Radke.
Longtime broadcaster Dick Bremer has written a memoir. “Game Used: My Life in Stitches with the Minnesota Twins” was released earlier this week and can be purchased here.
Garrett Broshuis, Ty Kelly, Raul Jacobson, and Paré, are the co-founders of Advocates For Minor Leaguers. The newly-formed nonprofit aims to improve the working conditions of, and give a voice to, minor-league baseball players.
Johnny Cooney was 19 years old when he was called up to the Boston Braves in September 1920 — he’d make his MLB debut the following spring — and the first teammate he met was a dead-ball legend known to take a drink or two. According to Cooney — this from an interview he did 35 years ago for Norman L. Macht’s book They Played the Game — Rabbit Maranville was there when he got off an overnight train to join the team in New York. The sun had barely risen above the horizon.
Cooney got into a taxi with Maranville, who promptly took out a whiskey bottle. “Want a drink, kid?’
The teetotaling rookie declined. As Cooney recalled in the interview, “Seven in the morning and Rabbit’s already drinking. Welcome to the big leagues. I never drank, smoked, or chewed tobacco.”
Last Sunday’s column mentioned the passing of Ted Cox at the too-young-age of 65. Just the other day I was reminded that the former Red Sox infielder was included in A. Bartlett Giamatti’s paean to baseball, The Green Fields of the Mind. The passage is as follows:
“Cox swings a bat, stretches his long arms, bends his back, the rookie from Pawtucket who broke in two weeks earlier with a record six straight hits, the kid drafted ahead of Fred Lynn, rangy, smooth, cool. The count runs two and two, Briles is cagey, nothing too good, and Cox swings, the ball beginning toward the mound and then, in a jaunty, wayward dance, skipping past Briles, feinting to the right, skimming the last of the grass, finding the dirt, moving now like some small, purposeful marine creature negotiating the green deep, easily avoiding the jagged rock of second base, traveling steady and straight now out into the dark, silent recesses of center field.”
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
At The Detroit Free Press, Anthony Fenech filled us in on Roberto Campos, who at 16 years old has a chance to grow into one of the Tigers’ top prospects.
An Italy-based Red Sox scout is in lockdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Jeff Passan talked to him for ESPN.
John Michaelson — born August Mikkola, in Taivalkoski — is the only player in MLB history to have drawn his first breaths in Finland. Terry Bohn wrote about Michaelson, who grew up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, for SABR’s BioProject.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Yohendrick Pinango led the Dominican Summer League in hits last year, with 86. A 17-year-old, left-handed hitting outfielder in the Chicago Cubs system, Pinango swiped 27 bases while slashing .358/.427/.442. He fanned 20 times, and drew 27 walks, in 274 plate appearances.
Chris Carter led the Mexican League in walks (115), strikeouts (156), and home runs (49), The 32-year-old slugger — formerly with the A’s, Astros, Brewers, and Yankees — slashed .293/.449/.709 with Acereros de Monclova.
The Alou brothers — Felipe, Jesus, and Matty — combined for 5,094 hits.
The DiMaggio brothers — Dom, Joe, and Vince — combined for 4,853 hits.
The Delahanty bothers — Ed, Frank, Jim, Joe, and Tom — combined for 4,217 hits.
MLB history includes 47 players who have drawn 1,300 or more walks. Of them, just 17 were right-handed hitters. Only five of the top 20 swung exclusively from the right side.
Players born on this date include Billy Goodman, who played from 1947-1962 and finished his career with a .300 batting average. In 6,447 plate appearances, the left-handed-hitting infielder hit 19 home runs, drew 669 walks, and struck out 329 times.
Casey Stengel slashed .393/.469/.607 in 33 World Series plate appearances.
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.