Braves’ bet on Jarred Kelenic is off to a promising start

From left, Atlanta Braves' Jarred Kelenic, Michael Harris II and Ronald Acuna Jr. celebrate in the outfield after a victory against the Philadelphia Phillies, Saturday, March 30, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

From left, Atlanta Braves' Jarred Kelenic, Michael Harris II and Ronald Acuna Jr. celebrate in the outfield after a victory against the Philadelphia Phillies, Saturday, March 30, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

PHILADELPHIA – If you needed further evidence that spring-training performance is mostly meaningless, Jarred Kelenic looks like a star.

That’s right, Kelenic. The same outfielder who stumbled his way through much of spring. He went 8-for-56 (and that’s with a nice 5-for-14 finish). The same guy whose struggles prompted some snarky remarks about president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos targeting an underachieving once-great prospect.

Well, Kelenic looks every bit the player for which the Braves hoped through two games.

Kelenic had three hits in his first four at-bats for the Braves. He had three hits in Saturday’s 12-4 victory, along with two RBIs. He even made a fantastic diving catch to rob Phillies MVP Bryce Harper of a leadoff hit in the third, tracking down a ball that’d traveled 321 feet.

“I’m feeling good in the box right now,” Kelenic said. “At the end of spring, I was pretty comfortable with where I was. I’m feeling the same, so it’s exciting.”

The Kelenic acquisition has been rehashed plenty over the past few months. The Braves absorbed salary from the Mariners so they could Kelenic, who hadn’t fulfilled his promise as a mega prospect but at age 24 wouldn’t be considered a lost cause. Despite his career .208 average and .661 OPS, the team focused on his physical ability.

It’s an understandable bet. The Braves seem to extract the most from players because of their environment. And they’ve said many times, Kelenic won’t be asked to be “the man” here.

“If you’re going to get a guy from another organization, a young player like that, this was probably the best environment that you could put him in with our group of guys,” manager Brian Snitker said.

Kelenic is hitting at the bottom of the order, free of pressure to be the All-Star he was once supposed to be. He said he feels it’s his “job” to get on base for leadoff man Ronald Acuña, the reigning National League MVP. And after getting thrown out attempting to steal second base on Friday, Kelenic understands that being on first is scoring position when Acuña is hitting.

The Braves had 19 hits in Saturday’s win. Kelenic was one of three with three-hit performances.

“Hitting is contagious, especially here,” Kelenic said. “One through nine, even guys on the bench who come in. You saw it with (Adam) Duvall (on Friday). It’s dangerous up and down the lineup which is super fun to be around.”

The hope was Kelenic could stabilize left field, which has been a revolving door for the team over this six-year run atop the National League East. The Braves reunited with Duvall in mid-spring, then saying Kelenic and Duvall would be a left-field platoon. Duvall pinch-hit for Kelenic against a lefty on Friday and delivered a game-tying double. Kelenic’s take: “(The platoon) sure worked yesterday, so we’ll keep doing that.”

Kelenic sounded relaxed. Why wouldn’t he be? He is showing exactly what he can produce. It’s a small sample, of course, but it’s all anyone can evaluate right now. From that perspective, it’s encouraging.

“It’s huge (for Kelenic to get early results),” Snitker said. “It’s really good, obviously. When you do well, the game is really, really fun. Now that it’s counting, the at-bats, using his speed, the defense, everything has been really, really good. I think it’s big for a kid on a new team and all. Again, he’s brought a pretty good finish to the spring into the season, which is really good. And you see what this kid is capable of.”

;