Day One of this series, day two of this New Year, and I’m already starting with a lie. The essays will, mostly, appear in a random order, but having Kyle Seager start is not at all a random choice. Because the first Spring Training game is fairly early this year, we had to accelerate our timeline for this series in order to fit in every profile before that first game. It’s clear, however, Jerry isn’t done making moves, and so for the first quarter or so we need to stick with the tried-and-true, the sure things, the solid-as-a-rock (steady).
Yes, you. You, Kyle Duerr Seager, you who have an allergy to social media, you tight-hugging, weird-face-making, soft-spoken walking peach emoji. Nellie brings the boom and Canó brings the swag; Kyle brings the consistency. Over his time in Seattle, he has been the Toyota Corolla of baseball players, a dependable producer you can count on for 4 - 5 WAR (incidentally, ZiPS projects him as the most valuable Mariner in 2017, at around 5 fWAR; Steamer is much less bullish, at 3.8). There is a very good chance that Kyle Seager will be the best player wearing a Mariners uniform next year. That label could have been his last year, when he posted a career-best .278/.359/.499 slash line, but Kyle Seager plays on the same team as Robinson Canó.
Kyle has an unfortunate habit of finding himself in elite company. A brief, non-chronological summary:
- His career year (so far) was overshadowed by Robinson Canó violating the Geneva Convention against American League pitching.
- He plays an excellent third base at a time when the position is stocked with a future Hall of Famer in Beltré, young superstar Manny Machado (just 23!), and hair product enthusiast Josh Donaldson. And that’s just in the AL—Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant, and budding stars like Maikel Franco and Jake Lamb make the hot corner arguably the most talent-rich position in all of baseball.
- He’s not even the most famous Seager in baseball anymore. Do you know Corey’s slash line offhand? Do you want to? No, there’s no point in looking. Actually, Kyle almost caught Corey in OBP, thanks to a significantly better K:BB ratio (Corey had .41 to Kyle’s .59, because sometimes being older means you have better judgement). But the point stands: imagine being Salieri, except Mozart is your kid brother.
- Kyle Seager didn’t even get to be the star on his college team. He played on a team with Dustin Ackley, who was regarded as one of the top prospects in baseball, while Kyle never made a top prospects list. Here’s a 2009 interview Dave Lezotte did with Kyle after his first professional hit with the Clinton LumberKings, in which he says more words than you’ve ever heard Kyle Seager say at once. A good minute or so of the four minutes is spent talking about Dustin Ackley.
All of these things, along with Seager’s natural reticence—during post-game interviews, he looks visibly relieved when he gets the nod that he can go back to the clubhouse—and the fact that he plays for what’s been a pretty middling baseball team combine to keep Kyle Seager our little secret.
And really, that’s probably for the best. Seager is happiest when he gets to quietly do what he loves, and be a covert weirdo who gets too into Ping-Pong, and we are happy when we don’t have to read national columnists’ hot takes on Kyle Seager (imagine Bob Nightengale trying to come up with something that interests him about Kyle Seager). Out of the spotlight’s glare, Seager can focus on attacking every hole in his game, which he does with a single-minded focus that makes Jeff Bezos look like a loafer. Kyle’s work ethic, in fact, is a good reason for you to buy into that more optimistic ZiPS projection. Taking Seager was one credit we can ascribe to Jack Z’s regime, or at least to scouting director Tom McNamara, who pressed to draft Seager based on a hunch; part of the reason Seager impressed scouts so much, even when being overshadowed by Ackley, was his work ethic, as scouts kept returning to the field to better and better versions of Seager. That didn’t stop as he worked his way through the minors, and it hasn’t stopped at the major league level, either. While Ackley has struggled, Kyle has soared. This is not to suggest Dustin Ackley has a poor work ethic. But it does point up that the old saying about genius being 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration is true for baseball, as well. Talent will get you in the door, but hard work will keep you in the lineup.
In that way--and I hope you will indulge me in this—the player Kyle Seager most calls to mind as a model of ruthless discipline translating into results on the field is the man who’s currently acting as his hitting coach. A similarly unheralded prospect playing in the shadow of his more hotly recruited cousin Carmelo, Edgar Martinez knew that his talent would take him only so far. Discipline and hard work would have to see him the rest of the way through. Even as he aged, Edgar never fell off a cliff, because the routines he set up early in his career safeguarded against that. He never rested on his talent. He never took his swing for granted.
Kyle Seager doesn’t take things for granted, either. Coming in second your whole life will do that. Every year, it seems, he figures out a new thing. This year, it was a twofer: Cing the Z and how to be a pull power hitter. Maybe next year it will be hitting some more opposite field home runs. Seager’s developing power is something to be excited about; his ISO took a huge leap this year from .185 to .221, and even if that regresses some (something something juiced balls something something), it’s still a tremendous improvement over the .160s he put up in his first two years. Steamer likes him for 24 home runs in 2017; my instinct says that’s too low by anywhere from “slices of pizza I can comfortably consume in one sitting” to “slices of pizza I can physically consume in one sitting.” It’s always a fool’s errand, projecting into next season, given the vagaries of baseball fate, but if you want something to feel sure about, let it be Seager. The history of Kyle Seager is a history of constant, relentless improvement. Maybe 2017 will be the year he finally gets to be first, and not just in this series.