When reflecting on his last season with the Seattle Mariners at Saturday’s Braves Fest, Jarred Kelenic said he felt like he had to be “the guy” when the team went through a slump. The outfielder added that a lot of his teammates wanted to take on that role because they wanted to win.
That feeling has left Kelenic since being traded to the Braves in early December.
Kelenic joins one of MLB’s strongest lineups from top to bottom — a group that led the league in most batting categories last year and has both reigning National League MVP in Ronald Acuña Jr. and league leader in home runs with Matt Olson.
Kelenic said that with this lineup’s strength, no one feels like they have to be “the guy.”
“When you’ve got a lineup like that just filled with talent, you have guys that can just go out and do their job, and I think it’s a recipe for greatness,” Kelenic said. “I’ve had a lot of expectations in turn like other places, people saying things and all that, and I’m trying to just tune all that out because I’m just going to go out and be who I am.”
This offseason, the Braves declined to exercise their option on 32-year-old outfielder Eddie Rosario, who hit .255 with a .755 OPS and 21 home runs last season. It left a vacancy in left field, and Kelenic, who has great upside, could outperform his predecessor.
The 24-year-old was the sixth overall pick in the 2018 draft. He hit 11 home runs with a .836 OPS in his first 59 games before fracturing his left foot by kicking a water cooler after a strikeout in July. Although he couldn’t catch fire again after returning from the injury in September, the lefty plays strong defense as well.
Kelenic’s teammates also see his potential.
“Jarred is really good, and I saw him in the AL West, and I just see the talent coming from him,” said Sean Murphy, who played for Oakland before Atlanta acquired him. “Everything’s there, and it started looking really good last year, and obviously he got hurt, but I think the sky’s the limit for him.”
Manager Brian Snitker mentioned that Kelenic was one of the players that he was excited to see and thinks Atlanta is the perfect place for him. He added that Kelenic has been hitting with some of the guys like Olson since touching down and they’ve been impressed.
Snitker said Kelenic will hit down in the order, both joking and serious about how the lower he hits the closer he is to Acuña which forces pitchers to throw to him. The lineup’s strength and his spot in the order overemphasizes how he won’t be expected to “carry a load.”
“It’s going to be really productive for him regardless of where he hits,” Snitker said. “It’s going to be the perfect place for a young, tooled-up player like that.”
Kelenic defined the difference between his early success last season and years prior as lack of consistency and confidence. He’s hit .204 with a .656 OPS over 872 games in his career.
But the outfielder said he’s learned what he’s capable of doing and how to drown out external thoughts. And with this lineup surrounding him, he can’t wait to maximize his potential.
“Confidence comes from yourself. So, it’s all about just trying to pick people’s brains but then understand what works for you and applying it and believing in that,” Kelenic said. “It’s already a winning atmosphere, and so to come from a different organization and now to be in this, I couldn’t be more excited because I’m just going to be a sponge and fit right in.”