The Mets’ prize for suffering last year through their worst season under general manager Sandy Alderson is an 18-year-old outfielder named Jarred Kelenic.
Kelenic became a Met Monday night, when they picked him in the first round (sixth overall) of the MLB draft. The Mets described Kelenic — a lefthanded-hitting centerfielder from Waukesha, Wisconsin — as strong at the plate and in the field, praising his all-around athleticism.
“That’s extremely valuable when you’re talking about everyday players in today’s game,” said Marc Tramuta, director of amateur scouting. “You get into a situation sometimes where it’s hit-only or it’s defense over offense. We feel Jarred is a young man that possesses tools to give him a well-rounded game. We feel he is going to hit and play defense and add value on the bases.”
Unlike their NFL and NBA counterparts, MLB teams do not draft based on need. But the 6-1, 196-pound Kelenic does help fill a certain hole in the Mets’ farm system. Of their top 15 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline, only two are outfielders and both are in the lower levels of the minor leagues: Desmond Lindsay with High-A St. Lucie and Adrian Hernandez, who made his pro debut over the weekend in the Dominican Summer League.
Baseball America ranked Kelenic as the best high school hitter in the draft. MLB Pipeline said Kelenic was the 10th-best overall player in the class, calling him “a more athletic version of Mark Kotsay,” a 17-year major leaguer.
“He has tremendous feel for the barrel and repeatedly demonstrates a professional approach from the left side of the plate,” MLB Pipeline wrote, noting that it’s not certain whether Kelenic will remain in center long-term. “With his solid raw power and speed, he can contribute offensively in a variety of ways.”
Kelenic’s background will conjure comparisons to another Mets first-rounder: Brandon Nimmo. Both are cold-weather prep outfielders who did not play baseball for their high school. Nimmo, from Wyoming, played for a local American Legion team because his home state didn’t offer high school baseball. Kelenic, the highest-drafted player from Wisconsin in MLB history, chose not to play for his alma mater, Waukesha West High. He instead suited up for travel teams and two Team USA squads that won gold medals in international play — a level of competition greater than what Nimmo faced.
Kelenic graduated a semester early so he could focus on preparing for the draft, a path he started pursuing as a sophomore. He spent much of that time in Waukesha at his family’s workout facilities, which count the NFL’s Watt family, including Houston’s J.J. Watt, among its clientele.
“He made it. He’s in the NFL — and one of the best,” Kelenic said. “To see how hard that guy still works on a day-to-day basis is motivation for kids like me that want to be where he is. Even though it’s a different sport, you want to be at the top.”
The recommended signing bonus for the sixth-overall pick is $5.5 million. Kelenic is committed to Louisville and can go there if he and the Mets don’t agree to terms.
Kelenic is the Mets’ highest draft pick since 2004, when they took Philip Humber third. Draft order is based on teams’ records the previous year.
This is the Mets’ seventh draft under Alderson. Kelenic joins a solid group of first choices: Nimmo, Gavin Cecchini, Smith, Michael Conforto, Justin Dunn and David Peterson.
The Mets picked another high schooler in the second round (48th overall), righthander Simeon Woods-Richardson. A product of Kempner High outside Houston, Woods-Richardson has a fastball that has reached 97 mph and an above-average curveball, the Mets said.