Kelenic is slow, and why that’s good news for mets fans

26.0 feet per second Position rank: 51

Age (22) rank: 9

League rank: 426

This discussion broke up late night this week, on one of the fridge mets Facebook groups. It centered on how Jarred Kelenic went from projected All-Star center fielder, to a guy that is now slower than current Mets outfielder, Dominic Smith.

At first, I didn’t really believe it. I’ve followed Kelenic since the Mets drafted him. We even profiles Jonathan India, who was selected right before Kelenic

So I checked out, and saw Kelenic’s name below Kyle Schwarber’s name in sprint speed.

No one considers Schwarber to be fast. Or athletic. Or agile in the outfield.

Now, fueled by some “fine tea” by all parties (aka it was late, and all of us were stoned as fuck), we began to investigate. And to speculate.

We all followed Kelenic from the time he was drafted by the Mets. All of the reports had him starting his career in centerfield.

How could these scouts be so wrong?

I had some time on my hands, plenty of “tea” and a growing idea for a new article.

So I dug in.

It didn’t take long to find fangraphs report for the Settle Mariners top prospects going into this season.

“I wrote last year that even though Kelenic had become a maxed-out beefcake, it hadn’t detracted from his ability to play a fringe center field. More recent looks indicate that is no longer the case. During several spring looks he failed to make plays on balls that I’d expect an average center fielder to make, especially fly balls in the gap that ideally your center fielder runs down. Kelenic’s size at his age may eventually push him to the 1B/DH realm”

Boom. Right there. He added 30 pounds this offseason and can’t play center anymore. Not only can he not play center anymore, he’s now one of the slowest outfielders in the majors.

Jarred Kelenic no longer profiles as an All-Star centerfielder.

He’s now looked at as a future 1B/DH.

He’s 22 years old. And was drafted out of high school, in part, because of his athleticism.

He’s slow. So what?

First, let’s look at centerfield. It’s probably the 2nd weakest position, league wide, behind catchers. Like catchers, major league centerfielders come with either a quality bat or a quality glove. If you’re a centerfielder not named Mike Trout, you probably don’t have both.

Which makes any player that can stick to centerfield that much more valuable.

Current New York Mets centerfielder Brandon Nimmo is a great example of this. Nimmo is a top 5 centerfielder in the majors. I think most Mets fans would agree that Nimmo can hold his own in centerfield, but he’s not a gold glove winner.

And of course Nimmo can hit enough too, to be an everyday player. His slashline of .299/.426/.417 definitely plays. But he’s not a top 5 right fielder and he’s not a top 5 left fielder either. Nimmo being able to handle centerfield makes his offense even more valuable, just because of how scarce complete centerfielders are.

Let’s go back to Kelenic. The Mariners hitting coach projected Kelenic could be a 30/30 guys while batting over .300.

Now that’s All Star numbers at any position. But in centerfield, it becomes superstar numbers. If you can do that through your early and mid 20’s, like Kelenic did, he had a change of becoming a very rich individual, very quickly.

Those 30 stolen bases are now out the window, and so are the production that comes with it. Take away centerfield (and possibly all defense if he ends up as a DH), and take away those stolen bases, and it becomes less and less likely that Kelenic is a consistent 5-8 WAR player he was projected as.

Beyond the very basics of bulking himself out of a defensive position, losing that much speed, after the weight gain, is a huge red flag for me.

One thing I love looking up on Baseball Savant is the sprint speed data. I always look at the guys who had huge drop offs in their sprint speed times. It almost always is followed by a drop in production.

Injuries usually soon follow.
This usually happens between 28 and 32 for most players.

Jarred Kelenic is 22.

My next question is how on earth Kelenic or anyone in his camp thought bulking up- at the expense of his athleticism- was a good idea.

The scouting reports from before the draft, and in the minors, all said he had elite MLB bat speed before this. From Prospect Insider back in February 2020: “Bat speed and barrel awareness produced well above-average power, and despite moving from the Class-A Midwest League all the way to Double-A Arkansas by the end of the season, Kelenic’s advanced plate skills helped him avoid long slumps.”

He even registered exit velocities over 100mph in high school, with a wood bat.

He already was hitting the ball harder in high school than the average major league player.
Why the need to bulk up to hit the ball harder?

Jarred Kelenic was drafted because of his bat skills, and his athleticism. With the increased bulk he added this offseason, it seems like he ignored both of these facts.

Maybe the Mets knew something about Kelenic that others didn’t.
Either way, Kelenic is going to have to hit a ton to be so limited on defense in his early 20s.

He certainly is no longer projected as that All-Star centerfielder Mets fans thought he would be.