Strike Zone

Notes: Kelenic Arrives. Brujan Next?

by Matthew Pouliot
Updated On: May 13, 2021, 2:47 am ET

It’s Jarred Kelenic time in Seattle.

I wasn’t one to criticize the Mariners’ decision to send down the 21-year-old Kelenic to begin the season, especially in light of him missing the first half of the spring with a knee strain. The demotion probably wouldn’t have turned into much of an issue at all if not for comments made by then Mariners CEO Kevin Mather in February. After all, Kelenic played just 21 games above A-ball in 2019 and was limited to Alternate Site duty last year. It wasn’t any sort of given that he was ready.

Now, though, the decision to promote him comes after just five Triple-A games, which sort of makes the Mariners look worse. On the other hand, promoting him now, rather than waiting a few weeks, sets Kelenic up to be super-two arbitration eligible, assuming that such a thing still exists in the next CBA. It’s a choice that could cost the team $10 million or more in the long run, if Kelenic turns into the star most think he’ll become. I don’t want to give the Mariners all that much credit, but it seems to me like they’ve handled this one pretty well.

Kelenic is about as safe of a bet as prospects come, and while there used to be some question about his ultimate ceiling, he looks like a future All-Star at this point. The power is there to make him a 30-homer guy, and while he probably won’t compete for batting titles and OBP crowns, he should do just fine in both categories. The Mariners figure to use him as a full-timer right away, though they could sit him against particularly tough lefties. It will be interesting to see if he does much running; he swiped two bases in his first five games in Triple-A and he was 20-for-27 there in 117 minor league games two years ago. If he steals 10+ bases, he has a chance of being a top-30 fantasy outfielder the rest of the way, and even if he doesn’t, he should still be worth rostering in every format.


American League notes


- Everyone is excited about Wander Franco for good reason, but don’t be surprised if Vidal Brujan is the first top prospect called up by the Rays. The 23-year-old Brujan is off to an outstanding start at Triple-A Durham, hitting .407 with four homers and a 5/6 K/BB ratio in 33 plate appearances. Franco isn’t doing just fine, too, having hit .269/.333/.615 in 30 plate appearances. Brujan, though, would be an easier fit with the team so prizing versatility. Primarily a second baseman and shortstop, he’s already started games at all three outfield spots and at third base this year. He’s not going to hit for big-time power in the majors, but he’ll pop the occasional homer and steal some bases. If the Rays call him up, even if it’s not necessarily to play regularly initially, he’ll be worth grabbing in mixed leagues.


- The Blue Jays’ Nate Pearson won’t another chance right away after an ugly 2021 debut against the Astros on Sunday. That’s probably for the best; he was a complete mess in walking five and striking out none in 2 1/3 innings. He got just one swing and miss while throwing 64 pitches. Perhaps he would have fared a little better against a less disciplined lineup, but he mostly was that bad. I still think he’ll have mixed-league value at some point this season, but he’s probably not worth holding on to in shallow leagues right now.


- The Royals seem to have abandoned the idea of using Ryan O’Hearn as a DH against righties, which makes sense because O’Hearn isn’t very good and Jorge Soler doesn’t need to be playing right field regularly. With Soler returning to DH, the Royals have gone to Hanser Alberto at third base and shifted Hunter Dozier to right field. Alberto, though, has yet to show anything offensively this season. The Royals have another option there if they want to keep Dozier in the outfield, which would be to call up Kelvin Gutierrez to play third base. Gutierrez is an excellent defender, and while he doesn’t have much of a ceiling offensively, he could be a modest upgrade over Alberto. Another option would be to try Edward Olivares and shift Dozier back to third. Olivares is off to a .417/.500/.625 start in six games in Triple-A, and while he’s probably not a quality regular against righties, he’d hit lefties and provide ample range in the outfield. Olivares also would have some fantasy upside with his speed; he swiped 35 bases in Double-A two years ago and he already has two steals this year.


- We should be getting more information about Alex Kirilloff’s injured wrist and whether a quick return is possible sometime within the next couple of days. In the meantime, fellow top prospect Trevor Larnach is up to play against right-handers. Since he’ll sit versus lefties and he might not be up for long anyway, he’s probably not a mixed-league pickup right now. I’ll like him next year, though; he has a great deal of power potential and I suspect that he’ll hit for a better average than some seem to think.


- The Angels didn’t need to release Albert Pujols in order to play Jared Walsh regularly; they were already doing that by using Walsh as a right fielder. What the move did do is free up a spot for Taylor Ward (and aid the defense by putting Walsh back at first base). I advocated for Ward last month when Dexter Fowler got hurt, but it turned out he was unavailable then for undisclosed reasons. He’s up now and he’s started seven straight games, going 5-for-23 with a pair of homers. Finding a place for Ward defensively has always been an issue, but he possesses the athleticism to turn into a decent outfielder and he’s shown plenty of power and patience at the plate in the minors. He can also steal the occasional base. It’s not enough to make him a mixed-league guy yet, but he’s definitely worth grabbing in deeper leagues and he might be an option in shallow leagues later, depending on whether he can hold off Jo Adell.


- Even though Kendall Graveman had taken over as the team’s No. 1 reliever, Rafael Montero was still looming as a threat for saves in the Seattle bullpen. However, that probably came to an end Tuesday, as Montero gave up three runs after entering in the seventh and took a blown save and a loss against the Dodgers. He also gave up a run his previous time out, and his ERA currently stands at 5.51. With his three wins and four saves, he’s been rather helpful for fantasy purposes anyway. However, it seems safe to drop him now.


- The Rangers activated Khris Davis from the IL on Sunday, but with Adolis Garcia and Willie Calhoun tearing it up, there isn’t any room for him in the lineup against righties. He should be limited to playing against lefties, mostly in place of David Dahl.

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National League notes


- The fractured thumb suffered by Joey Votto led to an overhaul of the Reds defense, with Eugenio Suarez returning to third base, Mike Moustakas shifting to first and Kyle Farmer taking over at shortstop. The Reds also decided to try Nick Senzel at second base at the same time, which has put Jonathan India on the bench for three of the last four games. It’d be no surprise if the Reds opted to send India down to play regularly, with Max Schrock perhaps replacing him on the bench.

Tyler Naquin is the obvious beneficiary of all of the switches, since the outfield got less crowded with Senzel taking over at second. The Reds also have Shogo Akiyama back from the IL, but after giving him a start in his first day on the roster, he’s been on the bench in three straight games. Since the Reds seem content to treat Akiyama as a reserve. Naquin is worth grabbing in any leagues in which he was dropped.

Senzel’s value also gets a nice boost with the second-base eligibility. He looked better than his batting line last month, and the numbers have started to come lately; he’s 14-for-38 in his last nine games. The one real disappointment there is that he’s been caught stealing five times in seven attempts. He’s plenty fast enough to improve on that, but he might (and probably should) decide to be less aggressive on the basepaths for the foreseeable future.

The move back to third base should do Suarez some good, too. His troubles on defense as a shortstop have likely played a role in his miserable start offensively. I thought he was somewhat overrated for fantasy purposes going into the season, but I’d be quite open to buying low there now. With the Reds offense looking great apart from him, he currently has more run and RBI potential than I thought he did a couple of months ago.


- Dinelson Lamet pitched two innings Tuesday against the Rockies, which is the same thing he did seven days earlier versus the Pirates. Common sense says that if a guy’s velocity is down three mph and he can’t throw more than two innings once per week, he should be on the injured list. The Padres aren’t stupid, though, and if they thought that sitting Lamet now would give him a better chance of helping later, that’s what they’d do. It seems like there are two possibilities here: Lamet is healthy but still needs to be convinced of that fact or Lamet is hurt and needs surgery but still needs to be convinced of that fact. Something will give soon, and hopefully it won’t be Lamet’s elbow. I’d hold on to him for now.


- With Starling Marte absent and the Marlins getting little from their outfield of late, the team has to be weighing giving 23-year-old Jesus Sanchez a shot. Sanchez is off to an incredible start in Triple-A, hitting .571 with four homers and an 1.179 slugging percentage in 30 plate appearances. Sanchez came into this year seemingly behind Monte Harrison in line for an opportunity -- and Harrison was just up briefly, going 1-for-5 in three games -- but he offers the greater offensive upside of the two, and it’s offense that the Marlins need with Adam Duvall, Garrett Cooper and Lewis Brinson having combined for a .204 average and a horrific 95/13 K/BB ratio in 292 plate appearances. Sanchez wouldn’t be an immediate mixed-league pickup if given the call, but with his power potential, he’d be worth watching closely.


- In his 97th plate appearance, Gavin Lux finally got on the board with his first homer Tuesday. Up until a week ago, he hadn’t hit a ball farther than 350 feet this season. Now he’s done that three times and picked up his first two barrels of the year. His strikeout rate has also been coming down. His April was pretty concerning, but it should go down as an aberration, and because of the Dodgers’ injuries, playing time hasn’t been any sort of issue. I expect continued improvement.

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- It didn’t take more than a bad first week to cancel out Josh Rojas’s encouraging spring for the Diamondbacks, as he spent the middle of April on the bench after going 2-for-27 in his the team’s first eight games. However, a rash of injuries got him another chance, and he’s been one of the NL’s hottest hitters of late, going 17-for-38 with four homers in his last 10 games. The only bummer is that he’s attempted just one steal this year, that coming three weeks ago on Apr. 22 (he was successful). There’s a path to Rojas having some lasting mixed-league value, but since his bat is more solid than spectacular, it involves him stealing bases. For what it’s worth, Statcast has Rojas with a .236 xBA and .456 xSLG to date, compared with his actual marks of .289 and .533. Those former numbers are closer to what one should expect going forward.