Call it a surprise. Call it a breakthrough. But Kyle Seager isn’t about to let you call his 2012 season with the Seattle Mariners an aberration.
After starting the season as a platoon player, he took away the third base job from a flailing Chone Figgins and made it his own – and became probably the team’s best hitter in the process.
But don’t think for a second that Seager has rested on his accomplishments during the offseason. That has never been his way. And it never will be. He knows he can’t simply rely on his talent because he’s never been the most talented guy on his team.
“It’s necessary for me,” he said. “I’ve always been a guy that has had to work hard.”
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Seager heads into spring training as the starting third baseman for the 2013 season. But is he the team’s everyday third baseman of the future? He was always profiled more as a second baseman. And he doesn’t fit the typical mold of a home-run-hitting third baseman. But for now, Seager is the Mariners’ man at third.
Midway through last season’s spring training, the Mariners’ front office and manager Eric Wedge decided to give Figgins one last chance to be an everyday player. They named him their leadoff hitter and said he would start games at either third base or left field.
There were those who thought Seager was the better option at third base. But, the politics surrounding Figgins’ contract — being owed $9 million for the 2012 season and another $9 million for 2013 — helped to precipitate the decision. Seager was going to play some third, some second in an effort to find at-bats.
But as many expected, Figgins played himself out of the lineup quickly, and Seager stepped in and took control of third base. He appeared in 155 games last season, starting 153 – 137 of those at third base.
Seager hit .259 (154-for-594) while leading the team in doubles (35), home runs (20), RBI (86), extra-base hits (56) and multi-hit games (42). He posted a .316 on-base percentage and a .423 slugging percentage.
He had 44 two-out RBI, which ranked him second in the
American League to MVP Miguel Cabrera, who had 47.
Seager did all of this while often batting third or fourth in the Mariners’ anemic lineup. Even though he was producing, it was a bit much to ask from a player with his limited experience. And he wasn’t alone with that kind of responsibility. Michael Saunders and Justin Smoak also were asked to bat in the run-producing part of the order, probably before they were ready.
“It just wasn’t really fair to them with where they were and are in their careers,” Wedge said. “They weren’t able to be protected. They weren’t in the best possible position to succeed. But I’m an optimist. Because they had to sink or swim on their own, they will be tougher for it.”
With the additions of Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse, Seager will likely move to second in the batting order or down to No. 6 or 7, which should only help him.
In the field, Seager was better than adequate. He showed a knack for fielding bunts and soft rollers and throwing on the run. But there were also difficult times. He committed 13 errors, third-most in the AL for third basemen. The Mariners expected a few mistakes as he adjusted to the position at the big league level. In advanced fielding metrics, Seager had an Ultimate Zone Rating of minus-1.9 – UZR representing the number of runs a player subtracts/adds for opponents. But only nine third basemen in all of baseball had positive UZR numbers.
“I did a lot of work in the offseason on my footwork,” he said. “I learned so much playing this whole season.”
Seager was never projected as the Mariners’ third baseman of the future when he was taken with as a third-round pick in the 2009 draft out of North Carolina. He was a second baseman for the Tar Heels, and it’s where most scouts projected him to have the most value in the majors. But with college teammate Dustin Ackley playing second base for Seattle, Seager will play third. There has been talk of moving Seager to second base and Ackley to left field if the team finds a more traditional slugging third baseman.
There isn’t one in the Mariners’ farm system at the moment.
There was some thought that Alex Liddi might be that person. But his struggles with strikeouts have tempered that hope. He’s also playing more and more at first base in at Triple-A Tacoma.
One of the main reasons Liddi was seeing time at first base was to give Vinnie Catricala a look at third base after being converted from the outfield. Catricala struggled defensively, as expected, but his superior hitting – the reason for the move – also declined. He hit .229 with 10 homers and 60 RBI. He posted a .292 on-base percentage with 88 strikeouts. By the end of the season, he was seeing more and more time in left field.
The team’s 2012 minor league player of the year – Stefen Romero – will play some third base this season after spending most of his time at second. Romero hits more like a third baseman, but the question is whether he can make the defensive adjustment.
So, barring a trade or major free-agent signing, Seager is the Mariners’ third baseman for years to come. And that’s not a bad thing.