Kelenic Making His Name Known For 2018 Class
When the Dodgers picked Indian Trail High (Kenosha, Wis.) shortstop Gavin Lux with the 20th overall pick last month, they made him the first high schooler from Wisconsin to be picked in the first round since 1979.
But assuming Lux’s former summer league teammate and 2018 prospect, Waukesha West outfielder Jarred Kelenic, continues on his current trajectory, the state won’t have to wait very long for its next top prospect to emerge.
Fresh off a standout performance at the 2016 USA Baseball Tournament of Stars that helped make him one of the 40 players selected for the 18U National Team trials, Kelenic has become a household name among evaluators. A two-way talent, Kelenic is headed to Long Beach in August to play for the White Sox underclass team in the Area Code Games, which is where he first turned heads playing for the same team last year.
After watching Lux and fellow summer league teammate Ben Rortvedt play for the White Sox in the 2014 Area Code Baseball Underclass Games, Kelenic made playing in the event one of his primary goals. Already a Louisville commit at that point, Kelenic was a shoo-in to earn a spot on the team, but he was also taken aback when he showed up at the tryout to find more than 150 players had earned an invitation as well.
"Getting the invitation was a relief because I had worked so hard to get there,” Kelenic said. "But there were a lot of guys at the tryout and when I saw how big some of them were, I knew this was the real deal.”
White Sox area scout and Area Code Games manager Clay Overcash tries not to learn about the prospects before the tryouts because he wants to start his evaluation of individual prospects with a clean slate. Overcash couldn’t remember whether he had seen video footage of Kelenic before the tryouts but he does remember that once the tryout began, it didn’t take Kelenic long to make an impression.
"Guys like Jarred Kelenic are hard to miss,” Overcash said. "I think we watched him swing the bat like three times and you could just tell that the bat speed was on a different level than the rest of the kids. His approach was so polished and advanced, he just stuck out like a sore thumb.”
Overcash also pointed out that Kelenic has the skills and the approach to play with the older kids and has done enough to deserve a spot on the upperclass team, but he will play with his classmates again this season because organizations prefer to keep the age groups separate.
For his part, Kelenic couldn’t care less what team he plays for and said he is only focused on what he can control and continuing to improve his game. It is that type of maturity and attitude that are readily apparent when Kelenic talks about his rise. He is so humble in describing his talents and focused with his preparation and work ethic that it can be difficult to remember he is just 16 years old and about to enter his junior year in high school.
As further evidence of his humility, Kelenic is quick to credit players such as Lux, Rortvedt and the others who came before him for his business-like approach to the game. His summer league coaches with Hitters Baseball tend to agree.
"He is more mature than Gavin and Ben were at his age but that is because he came up behind them,” said Hitters’ assistant coach Ro Coleman, whose son by the same name came up in the program and now plays at Vanderbilt.
"Jarred was around those guys all winter, watching them in the gym, lifting weights early, swinging in the cages until late at night—it makes an impression.”
Kelenic isn’t done working either. Overcash called Kelenic one of the five or six most advanced 16-year-old hitters he has ever seen and so Kelenic said his primary goal for this year’s Area Code Games is to be the best outfielder at the event. He also knows that he needs to work on recognizing breaking pitches and picking out the ones that he can drive.
But even those tweaks feel like picking at nits. Hitters’ head coach R.J. Fergus said that while Kelenic still has a long way to go before he can be as good as his former summer league teammates,
he is already stronger and has a better throwing arm than either of them. He has already flashed five-tool upside, has more pop than almost every other player in his class and has plenty athleticism and arm strength to stick in center-field. "In scouting, there are guys and there are dudes.
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Some scouts might like the guys but everyone likes the dudes,” Coleman said. "Jarred is a dude.”