PEORIA, Ariz. – For such a quality young player, Kyle Seager sure is easy to overlook.
We say the Mariners don’t have a poster child for their youth movement, but we’re hard-pressed to find many current young players — this side of Mike Trout, the human side — who have accomplished more in their first two full seasons.
We say he’s solid, not spectacular, but we lament that the Mariners can’t get more of their young’uns to reach solid, not spectacular, status.
We say he has peaked at above average, but we fail to consider that, with what he has accomplished at age 26, it’s more than likely he’ll reach another tier of effectiveness.
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Seager is the steady one, the young guy we don’t have to worry about on a team of fallen young stars. But somehow that often makes him fade to the background instead of standing out because negativity stirs so much of our Mariners’ conversation. The struggles of Jesus Montero, Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley get more attention.
Seager would laugh at the underestimation, but he’s too busy getting better.
“For me, I know that there are a lot of things I can clean up, offensively and defensively, that’ll help me be more consistent and help me to do better,” Seager said. “I can continue to get better, and hopefully I figure some things out, and this year, I’ll be able to keep moving forward.”
Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon would like to make it clear what moving forward means for Seager. Some old beliefs don’t really apply anymore. It was once said that Seager wouldn’t hit for enough power to play third base, but he has had back-to-back 20-homer seasons. His 22 homers ranked sixth among third basemen last season. He was in the top 10 in three other key offensive categories for a third baseman: doubles (eighth with 32), on-base-plus-slugging percentage (8th at .764) and slugging percentage (ninth at .426).
He’s not the next Mike Schmidt with those offensive numbers, but he’s holding his own at third base. He also has a dependable glove. And once again, at 26, he has the time and desire to improve.
“I think he’s well on his way,” McClendon said. “I think he’s one of the top 10 third basemen in baseball. This guy is a ballplayer, plain and simple. There’s nothing flashy about him. He hits. He hits for power. He’s going to hit for average. He’s going to drive in runs. He makes the fundamental plays. He can steal a base on occasion. He’s pretty darn good.”
The initial reaction is to think McClendon’s top-10 claim is too high for Seager. But indeed, Seager ranks among the best third basemen in just about every category, and that’s with him falling off badly in the final two-plus months of last season.
After hitting .396 and slugging .635 in a blistering 25 games last July, Seager was on pace to put up eye-popping numbers. He entered August with a .298 average and an OPS of .852. He was on pace for 27 homers and 78 RBI through 105 games.
But in his final 55 games, Seager hit just .183.
With the poor finish, he left a fantastic statistical season on the table. Fatigue is usually blamed for the dive, but Seager doesn’t see it that way. When told that he played 160 of 162 games last season, Seager does whisper, “That’s a lot.” But when he evaluated his 2013 season, he was more focused on an issue with his hands.
“I didn’t finish the way I’d like to,” said Seager, who hit .260 with 22 home runs and 69 RBI. “It wasn’t necessarily a tired thing. It was, basically, I got my hands offensively in a bad position, where I wasn’t able to make the move that I want to make. It’s a simple fix. It was a quick fix. But I didn’t pick it up until too late, and I let it spiral on me a little bit. But in the offseason, I was able to clean it up. Hopefully, I can learn from that and stay more consistent.”
Seager will improve because he’s as diligent as they come. He’s a perfectionist, always tinkering, always looking to find bad habits, always searching to gain an edge.
When he reflects on his defense in 2013, he talks about needing to clean up his hand position. He says he made “a couple of dumb errors” last season because he wasn’t in a good position. He has made the adjustment and hopes to improve upon his .964 fielding percentage, which ranked third among American League third basemen.
Tell Seager about McClendon putting him among the game’s top third basemen already, and he appreciates it and then practically forgets it.
“You definitely want to have the confidence of your coaches and the organization, but at the same time, I think you’ve got to be driven by yourself as well,” Seager said. “As soon as you get complacent in this game, you go backwards. There are a lot of examples of, you get comfortable and the game kind of speeds up on you. If you’re not continually working, not continually trying to get better, then you’re going to have a negative effect.”
Will Seager ever be a superstar? Probably not. His game doesn’t amaze. He’s just a good, dependable ballplayer. But if we’ve learned anything in recent years, it should be to respect how difficult it can be to develop into just a good, dependable ballplayer.
The Mariners don’t necessarily need a poster child for their youth movement. A few more Kyle Seagers would be plenty valuable.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @JerryBrewer