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Michael Cunningham: Jarred Kelenic gets fresh start he wanted with Braves: 'It's up to him to perform'

Michael Cunningham, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in Baseball

NORTH PORT, Fla. — The Braves lineup is filled with can’t-miss prospects who didn’t miss when they got their chance in MLB. Ronald Acuña Jr., Austin Riley, Ozzie Albies and Michael Harris II all flourished as young major leaguers. The Braves were quick to sign them to long-term contracts that have paid off.

That’s not how it went for outfielder Jarred Kelenic in Seattle.

Kelenic accused the Mariners of not promoting him from the minor leagues in 2020 to punish him for not signing a contract extension (the team said no promises were made). When Kelenic did get his chance, he struggled to hit for 93 games in 2021 and 54 in 2022. Kelenic had a breakthrough season in 2023, but the Mariners promptly traded him to the Braves in December.

Considering the circumstances, it’s no surprise that Kelenic said he was “ecstatic” to join the Braves. His new team is banking on the change of scenery to unlock Kelenic’s tremendous potential as a ballplayer.

“This is a good place to come into for a young guy like that because we’ve got a lot of young, successful major leaguers in that (clubhouse),” Braves manager Brian Snitker said this week at the team’s spring training complex. “It’s a great situation for him to have success. The situation is good, the atmosphere is good, the work that he’ll get is good.

“It’s up to him to perform.”

 

Kelenic couldn’t do it in Seattle. The Braves believe he’s still on the come at 24 years old. That’s a reasonable expectation. The counterpoint is that Kelenic, who bats left, has been an above-average MLB hitter for only two months.

A swing change produced better results to begin last season. Kelenic had a .846 on-base plus slugging in 53 games through May. His OPS dipped to .637 over the final 52 games. And Kelenic still was striking out a lot even when the outcomes were good.

Kelenic said he’s working on more tweaks to his swing during spring training. The goal is to hit the ball through the middle or to the opposite field. That could be a way for Kelenic to cut down on his 30.7% strikeout rate in 974 plate appearances. That’s much too high for any batter, especially one with below-average power numbers.

We’ll see if Kelenic’s swing adjustments lead to better results.

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