Corey Seager Proves He Can Be A Star At Shortstop

Corey Seager (Photo by Bill Mitchell) Corey Seager finished in the top 10 in the National League in hits, doubles, runs, batting average and slugging percentage (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

Corey Seager saw all the draft reports out of high school listing him as a third baseman. He read every word questioning if he could stick at shortstop as he made his way up the minors.

At first, the questions confused and irritated him. As he got drafted and ascended the Dodgers system, they motivated him.

Rookie Of The Year
1989 Gregg Olson, rhp, Orioles
1990 Sandy Alomar Jr., c, Indians
1991 Jeff Bagwell, 1b, Astros
1992 Pat Listach, ss, Brewers
1993 Mike Piazza, c, Dodgers
1994 Raul Mondesi, of, Dodgers
1995 Hideo Nomo, rhp, Dodgers
1996 Derek Jeter, ss, Yankees
1997 Nomar Garciaparra, ss, Red Sox
1998 Kerry Wood, rhp, Cubs
1999 Carlos Beltran, of, Royals
2000 Rafael Furcal, ss/2b, Braves
2001 Albert Pujols, of/3b/1b, Cardinals
2002 Eric Hinske, 3b, Blue Jays
2003 Brandon Webb, rhp, Diamondbacks
2004 Khalil Greene, ss, Padres
2005 Huston Street, rhp, Athletics
2006 Justin Verlander, rhp, Tigers
2007 Ryan Braun, 3b, Brewers
2008 Geovany Soto, c, Cubs
2009 Andrew McCutchen, of, Pirates
2010 Jason Heyward, of, Braves
2011 Jeremy Hellickson, rhp, Rays
2012 Mike Trout, of, Angels
2013 Jose Fernandez, rhp, Marlins
2014 Jose Abreu, 1b, White Sox
2015 Kris Bryant, 3b, Cubs
2016 Corey Seager, ss, Dodgers

“That’s kind of been something since I was drafted that’s been brought up,” Seager said by phone during the Dodgers penultimate regular-season series in San Diego. “‘I wasn’t gonna play short. I was gonna move to third,’ so that was something that I always worked hard at. I kind of used it as a little edge to prove people wrong and prove that I could play there to people who really had never even seen me play.”

Lost in all the criticism was year after year Seager made every play at shortstop, all the while showing an offensive skill set as gifted as any young prospect this side of Mike Trout or Kris Bryant.

That came to a head this year. In his first full season in the majors, Seager hit .308/.365/.512 with 26 homers and 72 RBIs. He finished in the top 10 in the National League in hits, doubles, runs, batting average and slugging percentage while hitting in the No. 3 spot all year for the NL West-champion Dodgers, and he did it all playing a solid, reliable shortstop. For all that, Seager is the easy choice for the Baseball America Rookie of the Year.

“I think making the All-Star Game was kind of my moment or sigh of relief or whatever you want to say,” Seager said. “Kind of like ‘I did it, I put the work in, it paid off.’ But at the same time the work isn’t over. You’re still gonna work everyday and be better the next day and try and get better.”

Making It Work

After making his major league debut in September 2015 and starting at short for the Dodgers during their brief postseason run, Seager went into the offseason with a better idea of what he needed to do defensively.

During spring training Seager worked long hours with Dodgers infield coach Chris Woodward on what he needed to do make his 6-foot-4 frame, taller than most shortstops, play at the position sufficiently.

“Just being a longer guy, you take longer steps, so shortening up steps when you catch the ball and redirecting, those were probably my biggest ones this spring training,” Seager said. “We worked on that, we worked on throwing. I kind of create different angles being a big guy obviously so I was creating a lot of downward angle on my throws, missing down a lot in the dirt, so that was a big focal point for me this year, throwing the ball as true as possible to first base every time.

“You work on every aspect of defense, whether it was learning swing paths, learning how to get a better jump, anticipating, working on your footwork, all the little stuff that can make a really big difference.”

The end result was Seager ranking no worse than average defensively by most advanced defensive metrics.

“Coming in, I think across the board I didn’t really see much of Corey, and you see the big body,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, “but he’s been as consistent and steady, defensively, as I could have envisioned.”

Seager’s style of play—play deep, let his above-average arm make the throws—is reminiscent of fellow 6-foot-4 former shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. While it caused some scouts in Seager’s youth to doubt he had the quick-twitch reflexes necessary to play the position, it was a style that actually fit with what the Dodgers were looking for.

“We take away the five-six hole pretty much,” Seager said. “That’s a little bit of our team philosophy. That’s kind of our scouting reports, that’s something we’ve kind of done as a team and I’ve been able to adapt to it. It kind of actually plays into my sort of strengths.”

That Seager was a shortstop in the Dodgers’ eyes who fit their philosophy was a message repeatedly imparted by signing scout Lon Joyce and then-Dodgers scouting director Logan White, now with the Padres. Their belief in Seager’s ability to play shortstop, contrary to what many others were saying, gave him the confidence he could do it.

“They always told me I was going to play myself off the position basically. That I was going to shortstop until they thought I couldn’t do it,” Seager said. “It was nice to have the honesty from them, to say ‘Listen, we’re giving you every chance to prove to us that you can and we want you to play there.’ It was really comforting as a player and it was also a little bit of a driving force. It was ‘Hey, I’m getting a shot, I need to go out there and prove that I can do it.”

That he did, although Seager still has work to do. His 18 errors tied for most among NL shortstops.

At the same time, by virtue of how many balls he got to, he still finished the year with a neutral value for his fielding runs, according to calculations.

“He seems like he’s always in the right spot (and) he really does a nice job with all the plays,” Roberts said. “The plays to his left and his right.”

While Seager’s defense proved sufficient, it was his offense that made him a star. One scout recalled putting an “80” grade on Seager’s future hitting ability on the 20-to-80 scouting scale when he was a 19-year old in the high Class A California League, and Seager’s career .891 OPS in the minors backed up every glowing report.

What was different, and slightly unexpected, was just how much power he showed as a rookie. Considered a 15-20-home run threat who might hit 25 in his prime, Seager instead hit 26 homers—more than he hit in any minor league season.

“It just kind of happened,” Seager said. “I never really ever hit this many home runs. It could be the more at-bats you’re getting. You have a better gameplan coming into those. you know what pitchers do, you know what you want to do. It’s an accumulation of everything.”

Power, defense and a high batting average at shortstop. It’s the recipe for a franchise player, which is exactly what Seager proved to be in his rookie season.

Contributing: Carlos Collazo

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