Jarred Kelenic Traded to the Atlanta Braves
The Mariners traded Jared Kelenic, Marco Gonzales, and Evan White to the Braves for Jackson Kowar and Cole Phillips.
The Winter Meetings are kicking off with a bang as we had our first trade come through late Sunday night with Jarred Kelenic, Marco Gonzales, and Evan White being sent to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for Jackson Kowar and Cole Phillips.
Jarred Kelenic To Atlanta
Jarred Kelenic is obviously the headliner of the trade, a former sixth overall pick by the New York Mets who was traded to Seattle for Edwin Diaz and eventually became a consensus top-10 prospect. Some have quickly labeled Kelenic as a quad-A player due to his struggles in the Majors, but consistently good performance in Triple-A.
In his first two seasons in the Majors in 2021 and 2022, Kelenic slashed .168/.251/.338 across 147 games with 21 home runs and 11 stolen bases. 2023 was a major step forward as Kelenic began the season incredibly hot but was sidelined for nearly two months after kicking a water cooler and breaking his foot. Still, for the season, Kelenic posted a .253/.327/.419 slash line with 11 home runs and 13 stolen bases.
Despite the higher strikeout rate(31.7 percent), Kelenic made improvements at the plate, seeing his zone contact rate jump from 75 percent in 2022 to 81.5 percent in 2023. The overall contact rate sat just south of 70 percent, and his chase rate sat right at MLB average with a 31.7 percent clip.
When Kelenic makes contact, he hits the ball hard. He posted an average exit velocity of 91 mph and a 90th-percentile exit velocity of 107 mph. The average exit velocity graded out in the 75th percentile among MLB hitters. His hard-hit rate of 45.5 percent was a new career high and a ten percentage point increase from 2022 and his 38.8 percent sweet spot percentage was 91st percentile among all MLB hitters. You can see his spray chart for his career overlayed in Truist Park below.
There are still major contact concerns, but Kelenic fits nicely into left field for Atlanta, a spot they desperately needed to upgrade. Braves’ GM Alex Anthopoulos stated that Kelenic would provide “competition or a platoon partner to Vaughn Grissom in left field, but I’m still not buying Grissom in the outfield.
Kelenic made major strides against left-handed pitching this season. After hitting just .161 with a .476 OPS against lefties in the first two years of his career, Kelenic slashed .259/.315/.459 with a 29.3 percent strikeout rate and a 72 percent contact rate in 2023. Against righties, a .251/.330/.408 slash with a 32.5 percent strikeout rate and a 65 percent contact rate. I would not be quick to shove Kelenic into a platoon role.
From a contract standpoint, Kelenic will make the league minimum in 2024 and be under team control until 2029.
Marco Gonzales, LHP
After tossing 183 innings in 2022, Gonzales reached just 50 innings in 2023, and his season ended early due to surgery on his forearm. A nerve issue had been bothering him all season which somewhat explains the 5.22 ERA.
In the prior five seasons, Gonzales averaged 174 innings per season(COVID season excluded), and had a combined 3.94 ERA between them. He is the type arm of arm that does not provide many strikeouts, with a fastball that averages 89 mph. He locates it well, but you have to be extremely precise with a velocity below 90.
He mixes a changeup and curveball as well and seemed to cut back on his cutter usage in 2023.
Gonzales is owed $12 million in 2024 but has just a $7.5 million hit on the luxury tax salary. He also has a club option in 2025 for $15 million.
Evan White, 1B
Evan White is one of the few players to get an extension before taking a single swing at the MLB level, signing a six-year, $24 million dollar deal. While he is owed $7 million in 2024 and $8 million in 2025, White has just a $4 million luxury tax hit in both seasons.
Things have not gone as planned for White, who has missed significant time with injury and in 306 MLB plate appearances, has posted a slash of .165/.235/.308 with ten home runs.
Cole Phillips, RHP
The Mariners may have found a gem in Cole Phillips.
Phillips has not yet pitched in game as a professional due to having Tommy John surgery toward the end of his senior season in high school in 2022. He was trending toward being a first-round pick, but Atlanta was handed a gift at 57 overall last summer.
Phillips has a big fastball that consistently sits in the mid-90s but has reached triple digits. His slider missed a ton of bats as a prep, having late break, fooling hitters, and generating some ugly swings. Phillips did not use the changeup often in high school, more because he did not need to, but it could be a solid pitch moving forward.
There are still a lot of questions about what Cole Phillips can be considering the injury and the fact he has not pitched in game professionally. But, Phillips is an incredible athlete who moves well on the mound and repeats his delivery well. The arm speed plus the frame bode well for him pending his recovery goes smoothly from Tommy John. If all clicks, he could soar up rankings upon his return to the mound.
Jackson Kowar, RHP
Hopefully Kowar had not gotten too comfortable with his new club yet, as the Braves just traded for him merely two weeks ago. The former first-rounder has struggled in his time in the Majors and has a 9.12 career ERA in 74 MLB innings.
Kowar did see his fastball tick up significantly in 2023, sitting 97, while also using it less often. The increased slider usage did pay dividends and was his best swing-and-miss pitch.
Kowar could slot in the Mariners stacked bullpen in low-leverage situations.