In education training, teachers are cautioned strongly against defining students by their deficits; the same is not true for prospect evaluation. In a crowded field, it’s easier to separate players by their weaknesses rather than lauding them for their strengths, especially when those strengths are quieter skills. There are some profiles that will always attract: razor-sharp defense at a premium position, a face-melting fastball, and power, always power.
Kyle Seager didn’t have big power at North Carolina and it seems to have trickled into his overall assessment as a player; the word “average” appears more often than you would expect for a player who never hit below .300 over his college career. “Able to hit,” “plus makeup,” fundamentally sound,” “competent,” and “respected by opposing coaches”—these are some of the accolades Seager collected in reports, the scouting equivalent of saying he has a great personality. For whatever reason, Kyle Seager was defined more as what he was not: not someone who would hit a stack of home runs, not someone who would make dazzling defensive plays; not his brother Corey, who graced Top-20 lists from the time he first picked up a bat (Kyle never even made a Top-100); not his teammate Dustin, the Mariners’ first round pick in the year they took Kyle in the third round, seen by many at the time as an over-reach.
And it could have been. Kyle Seager didn’t need to get better; he could have slumped into the utility role so many projected for the stocky infielder. A first or second-round pick has a better than half chance of making it to the majors; the numbers after that drop off sharply. If Kyle Seager, third round draft pick, didn’t work out, if he was the resoundingly average player his early scouting reports portrayed, well, that wasn’t the kind of thing that would cost anyone a job.
Instead, as John pointed out in his excellent 40 in 40 on Seager, Kyle stands out as the lone Mariners homegrown position player success since we were concerned about the Y2K bug:
When talking about the Mariners’ inability to develop homegrown talent and the players who somehow escaped the Pit of Doom known as the Mariners farm system, John and I noted that Félix succeeded because of an unwreckable talent; Kyle, because of an unwreckable work ethic. With all due respect to the King at his peak, Kyle Seager started with humbler stuff and has parlayed that into something rivaling the top talents at his position over his major league career. It’s a bad time to try to be a third baseman standing out from the crowd—although Kyle consistently lands in the top third—but that’s nothing new for someone who wasn’t ever the star on his own college team, in his own family.
Reader, I must confess: writing about Kyle Seager isn’t my favorite thing to do. It is so hard to find something new to say about Kyle, the model of consistency, he of no social media presence (although what appears to be a sly sense of humor and an ability to deliver some of the best performances in the Mariners annual commercials). This achievement—1,000 hits—isn’t even a particularly huge milestone, stone though it is; the 1,000 hit club is less a testimony to transcendence, and more to the ability to stick around. It’s a workaday achievement for a workaday player.
And yet, Kyle Seager looms large in Mariners history already simply because he is that model of consistency. There are exactly 11 transactions listed on Kyle Seager’s MLB.com profile, starting from when he was signed up to 2011, when he shuttled Seattle-to-Tacoma a couple of times before nestling in at the hot corner for the rest of the decade. After that, the transaction line goes dark. There are no DL stints. Kyle Seager has outlasted two of the affiliates he came up with (RIP, High Desert Mavericks). He has outlasted players drafted ahead of him, behind him in later years, players who collected the lion’s share of attention as top-ranked prospects; he has outlasted the annual onslaught of casual but noisy fans who complain about his slow starts, who question if he’s really worth the money. Whatever Kyle Seager is made of, it’s not something that can be seen on the surface; he is made of something geologic, ancient, powerful without seeming powerful, like a rock you pick up casually without thinking about how many thousands of years old it is.
Michelangelo described the experience of carving as a liberation, seeing his job as whittling away the superfluous material to let the sculpture within free. Every day Kyle Seager takes the field, the superfluity of the scouting reports, the carpings of the fans, the salt of his fellow third basemen, the definition by deficit—the noise falls away. Every day, we get closer to seeing the sculpture within. Congratulations on 1,000 hits, Kyle. Here’s to 1,000 more.