Kelenic era take 2, and Raleigh too
Cal Raleigh is slated to get most of the playing time at catcher in the Mariners' second half
July 15, 2021
For their last game before the All-Star break, Your Seattle Mariners promoted their big prospect to the Major League team. No, not Jarred Kelenic, this was catcher Cal Raleigh, who started that game on Sunday and went 0-for-4.
But Kelenic is coming back, and soon. "We think it's the right time to give [Kelenic] another shot," said general manager Jerry Dipoto today. The highly-touted outfielder will likely be promoted in time for tomorrow's game in Anaheim against the Los Angeles Angels.
Both rookies are slated to get a lot of playing time, which might complicate things for manager Scott Servais. Or not. It's not like Servais cares much about who's on his bench in any given game. But with the Mariners in a position to contend for at least Wild Card playoff standing, he can't have a lot of patience for more of the flailing about we saw from Kelenic earlier in the year, and playing Raleigh means the team will carry three catchers, at least for now, among Seattle's chronically undermanned complement of position players.
Kelenic was first promoted to the M's back in May, after just six games of experience in Triple-A. Some thought it was premature, and that turned out to be true—the 21-year-old was given a hard dose of reality, batting just .096/.185/.193 with a 28% K rate in 23 games before being mercifully sent back to Tacoma.
"I'm ready to go back [to Seattle]," Kelenic said while at the Futures Game in Denver last weekend. "The numbers I’ve put up, where I’m at mentally, I definitely think I’m ready to go back." He has a point regarding the numbers. His line in Tacoma was a splendid .320/.392/.624, and the strikeouts were cut nearly in half, down to 15%. But are the statistics enough, or is there more to being ready for The Show?
No doubt the demotion was good for Kelenic; ever since high school, if not Little League, he was among the best, if not the best, of his peer group until his too-soon taste of the big leagues. Learning a little humility certainly couldn't have hurt his development, and to his credit, Kelenic seems to agree. "It was definitely a big learning adjustment that I had to make," he said of being sent back to the minors. "And I know five years from now, two years from now, when I look back on this it’s probably going to be the best thing that’s ever happened."
Hopefully, Kelenic will follow the path catcher Luis Torrens is on. Though he had more experience in both the minor and Major leagues, Torrens also struggled mightily in the early part of the season and was demoted to Tacoma after 29 games with a rather pathetic batting line of .178/.219/.300. He stayed in Tacoma for about a month, and though he didn't hit that well down there the experience did him good. Since his return to Seattle in mid-June, Torrens has hit .288/.391/.695 with seven homers. He's forced his way into the lineup, and if indeed Raleigh is going to get the bulk of the catching time, look for Torrens to be the designated hitter most days.
One argument in favor of recalling Kelenic is that even if he does struggle, it's not like he'll be displacing a better hitter. Taylor Trammell has already been sent back to Tacoma for the second time this year—in 24 games between his recall and second demotion, he hit a mere .164/.256/.384—and Shed Long, despite delivering a few key hits that included a walk-off grand slam, has once again sunk below a .200 batting average while drawing all of five walks.
An under-the-radar consequence of these promotions is the fate of catcher Tom Murphy. Murph has not had a good year with the bat, though he has gotten praise from Servais and Dipoto for his handling of the pitching staff. But if Raleigh is here to stay, Torrens is hitting well, and the M's continue to carry the thinnest of thin benches, that makes Murphy expendable. You wouldn't think a .194 catcher would have much value on the trade market, but this is the year Mike Zunino made the American League All-Star team batting under .200. Aside form Kansas City's Salvador Pérez, Boston's Christian Vazquez (sort of), and Torrens 2.0, no AL catchers are hitting, at least none that have been up to bat more than 150 times; it's better in the National League, but half the clubs over there are in similar boats. There might be a bit of a market for Murphy, at least as part of a small package. Otherwise, he's likely looking at a DFA unless Raleigh really struggles, and apparently he'd have to struggle as badly as Kelenic did earlier. "We want to see Cal play on a regular basis," Dipoto said. "We want to focus on the discipline of giving these young players their reps, because that’s just so important to what happens moving forward." And Raleigh's earned a shot, at least, with a fine showing in 44 games with Tacoma: .324/.377/.608 with 36 RBI, and unlike so many other Mariner prospects, Raleigh has followed a more traditional minor-league upbringing, making all the stops—two levels of Class-A ball, Double-A, and Triple-A, though only about half a season at each.
It remains to be seen what the roster makeup will be when the M's get back on the field tomorrow night; in addition to adding Kelenic, which will require a corresponding move to open up a spot (Shed Long to the minors? Whither Jake Bauers?*), they will also be without pitcher Hector Santiago, who lost his appeal with the league and will begin serving a 10-game suspension for allegedly having a foreign substance in his glove (it's worth noting that there was no evidence to support the accusation presented in his appeal hearing, the appeal was denied strictly on the basis of the umpire's recollection of the day in question even though the glove had been confiscated at the time, preserved, and presented at the hearing without any such substance on or in it). Santiago's spot may not be filled while he's out, so if no other moves are made—and presuming the M's don't rightfully cut a reliever to make room for Kelenic—it would give Seattle 13 pitchers (four starters) and 12 position players. Will another move be made to give Servais his precious tenth(!) relief pitcher? Doubtful, but this is the team that abused the COVID rules in order to carry an extra, unnecessary reliever for last Sunday's game, placing Yusei Kikuchi on the IL for a day because of "COVID precautions" that were mysteriously absent when he was reactivated and hopped a flight to Denver for the All-Star festivities immediately thereafter. With a day off following the Angels series, the M's won't need a fifth starter until the 25th; Santiago's suspension will still have a couple of days to go, but after that they could plug him into the rotation until Justin Dunn is able to return from the injured list. Still, Servais has had other opportunities to start Santiago and opted against the idea, so we'll have to wait and see. Perhaps a trade is coming.