PEORIA, Ariz. — There might be no player who better symbolizes the Mariners’ rising fortunes than third baseman Kyle Seager.
It was just a year ago the Mariners and Seager offered the hope of promise and possibility. Now, they each face the expectation of continued improvement and eventual excellence.
The Mariners, after bolstering an 87-victory roster, are a trendy postseason pick, while Seager, now a returning All-Star and Gold Glove recipient, is one of the key reasons why.
“It’s an exciting time,” he said. “If you look top to bottom what this lineup can potentially do, there are a lot of dynamics to this that are pretty exciting.”
Seager, at 27, is handling success, and those heightened expectations, the way he handled last spring’s questions…by tinkering with his swing.
“I’m trying to find something that I like,” he said. “I’ve made little adjustments this whole time we’ve been here.
“It’s something I’m still continuing because I don’t want to have a start like last year — where I don’t get out of the gate too hot.”
Seager batted .191 a year ago in 68 spring at-bats and carried that slump into the season and saw him manage only 10 hits in 64 at-bats (.156/280/.219) over his first 19 games.
Then he hit two homers on April 23, including a three-run walk drive, in a 5-3 victory over Houston that enabled the Mariners to end an eight-game skid.
It signaled a turnaround for Seager and the Mariners.
“He’s a guy who can hit,” teammate Robinson Cano said. “Everybody knew that even before I came here. Sometimes, we just talk about who is pitching, and what he’s got.
“He’s a guy who listens, and that’s why he’s so successful. He can be really good. Trust me…you will see in the next few years how good he can be.”
By season’s end, Seager was an All-Star, had his Gold Glove and, shortly thereafter, a new seven-year contract for $100 million that wiped out his three arbitration years and four years of possible free agency.
“I think he proved to himself what he can do,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “Ultimately, I think Kyle has the type of personality and work ethic that should take him to a MVP-type of season.
“I look for that in the very near future. He can do it (this) year if he wants to.”
Meanwhile, Seager continues to tweak his swing.
“Just like always,” he confirmed. “I’ve found some stuff that I like. I’ve found some moves that I think will help me. Now, it’s just kind of refining it and getting it consistent.”
One goal is a continuing process from last season to refine his swing to enable him to hit the ball to all fields with power. Opposing defenses often overshifted their alignments last year and, increasingly, he made then pay.
“Just staying with that process,” Seager said. “When you get into better hitting positions, you’re able to do different things. I’m finding ways to not only get into those positions, but be explosive in those positions.
“If you get into those positions, but you’re not really using your hips or your body as well as you should, you’re going to lose a little bit. So I’m trying to get everything together.”
McClendon spent seven years as a hitting coach in Detroit before coming to the Mariners. He looks at Seager’s swing, from that perspective, and sees hitter who .
“When you become that type of hitter,” McClendon said, “you become dangerous. You’re not just a pull hitter. He’s ahead of the game. He feels good about where he is.
“I think he’ll have an even better year than he did last year.”
Seager said the goal is simple: Hit the ball hard to all fields.
“I don’t know that I’ll ever have that much power to (left field),” he said, “but I need to be able to drive the gap. I need to be able to hit doubles out there and, occasionally maybe, run into one.
“For me, I need to be able to keep the ball out of the air to left field. If I can hit it hard on a line, that’s ideal for me.”
And the Mariners.
CIVIL RIGHTS GAME
The Mariners’ game on April 15 against the Dodgers in Los Angeles was designated Monday by Major League Baseball as the annual Civil Rights Game.
The Civil Rights Game dates to 2007 and seeks to pay tribute to those connected to the nation’s civil rights movement, but this marks the first time it will be held in conjunction with annual Jackie Robinson Day observance.
Baseball began honoring Robinson each year in 2004 on the anniversary of his debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers, which marked the breaking of the sport’s color barrier.
All clubs take part each year in Jackie Robinson Day ceremonies, which include having all field personnel wear Robinson’s No. 42. This is the first time the Mariners will participate in the Civil Rights Game.
Seven Mariners are listed among the Top 175 prospects as ranked by John Sickels of www.minorleagueball.com, although their top prospect doesn’t appear until No. 39: outfielder Alex Jackson, who draws a B-plus.
Others on Sickels’ list:
Infielder D.J. Peterson (No. 54, B-plus), outfielder Austin Wilson (124, B), pitcher Edwin Diaz (138, B), outfielder Gabby Guerrero (168, B-minus), shortstop Ketel Marte (170, B-minus) and utilityman Pat Kivlehan (173, B-minus).
Those rankings are roughly in line with the TNT’s Top 10: Jackson, Peterson, Marte, Guerrero, Wilson, Diaz, Kivlehan, pitcher Luiz Gohara, catcher Tyler Marlette and pitcher Carson Smith.
Want to be on hand in the King’s Court to watch Felix Hernandez pitch the season opener on April 6 against the Los Angeles Angels at Safeco Field?
The Mariners are putting a limited number of such tickets into a lottery for those who register at www.mariners.com/felix. Those selected can purchase seats located in specific King’s Court sections for $55.
The purchase price includes a King’s Court T-shirt and a K Towel.
Registration began Monday and runs through 11:59 p.m. on March 26. A random drawing will take place on March 27, and winners will be notified via email on March 30.
Tickets must be purchased by 11:59 p.m. on March 31.