With the Arizona Fall League season beginning Tuesday, Glendale Desert Dogs shortstop Corey Seager could look upon his return to the AFL as a do-over.
The Dodgers’ No. 1 pick in 2012 had a dismal six weeks here last year, batting .181/.253/.306 in 19 games. Scouts noted that the lefthanded hitter looked sluggish at times and overmatched by the older and more advanced pitchers he faced.
To be fair, Seager was only 19 at the time and coming off his first full season as a professional. But The Kannapolis, N.C., native is aware of what went wrong in his first AFL stint.
“It was definitely a long year last year," Seager said. “My first full year and on top of the Fall League, too. … Probably the main thing for me last year was just that you got so tired you didn't want to work out."
Logan White, the Dodgers’ vice president of amateur scouting, agreed with Seager’s assessment.
"It was hard for him to go to Arizona after a long first full season last year,” White said. “It was such a long year for him and he was a little beat up. He's a big guy playing shortstop, and when you get tired in the middle of the diamond, and you don't perform, it can look bad at shortstop. When you're big like Corey, and you get tired, you will look lethargic at short.”
If there were any doubts about Seager's status as a prospect after last fall, the shortstop put any concerns to rest with a strong season split between High-A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Chattanooga. He hit a combined .349 with 50 doubles, participated in the Futures Game in July, and was named California League MVP despite leaving that circuit just past midseason.
Scouts who saw Seager both in Arizona last fall and again during the 2014 season marveled at the improvements he made this year.
“He firmed up the front side in his swing," said one veteran talent evaluator, “and showed he could make the necessary adjustments coming out of the AFL."
Another scout said, simply, “He was really, really good."
Seager was, of course, pleased with the progress he made this year.
“It was a good year," he said. “I did accomplish my goals. I repeated the Cal League and had more success this time going through it. The promotion to Double-A was good … I continued my success there and tried to stay as consistent as possible."
Because he struggled in 2013, Seager believes he'll be able to help his Dodgers teammates on the Desert Dogs grind it out this fall. The key is just taking better care of your body.
“Just continue working out," Seager said. “The games are going to be tough. You're going to see everybody's top guys. It's just grinding out every at-bat."
Seager knows the value of seeking advice from those who have been there. He's been leaning on his older brother Kyle, the third baseman for the Seattle Mariners, since becoming a pro.
“Honestly, I don't know how I'd make it through one of these years," Seager said about his brother's help. “Any problem, anything I've had with professional baseball, he's already gone through. It's that little voice that you can always go back to. He can tell you what he did, and you can take what he says and try to figure it out on your own."
At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, Seager's future position has always been in doubt, with many observers thinking that he'll eventually have to move off shortstop, the only position he's played as a professional. The Dodgers organization has always told Seager that he'll be a shortstop until he plays himself off of it. But now observers aren't so sure that he's going to have to move.
"… for me there's no question he can play shortstop,” White said. “The question is for how long? He will get bigger and thicker and stronger. His range may be just fair, but he makes plays, he's a nice, steady shortstop with no panic in him. I think he can play shortstop in the major leagues. But there are players with more range, some in our own system such as (Miguel) Rojas and (Erisbel) Arruebarrena.”
The same scout who commented on the improvements in Seager’s swing also was surprised this year by Seager's ease and smoothness at shortstop. What he lacks in pure range he makes up for with positioning and the ability to read hitters' swings.
Besides, there currently aren't any native North Carolinians playing shortstop in the big leagues and Seager is looking forward to filling that gap soon.
“That would be neat," Seager said. “That would be pretty cool to represent the state that way."
• This year's AFL managerial lineup includes: Glendale Desert Dogs—Lance Parrish (Tigers); Mesa Solar Sox—Mike Mordecai (Blue Jays); Scottsdale Scorpions—Jeff Bannister (Pirates); Peoria Javelinas—Vance Wilson (Royals); Salt River Rafters—Andy Haines (Marlins), and Surprise Saguaros—Delino DeShields (Reds).
• The Arizona Fall League hosted the second annual Bowman Hitting Challenge on Saturday at Salt River Fields to help kick off the new season. One AFL player from each organization competed in a unique hitting skills contest that awarded points for home runs as well as hitting on-field targets with both batted and bunted balls. Hunter Dozier (Royals) tallied the most points to finish atop the 30 competitors.