The day the Mariners drafted Kyle Seager I thought he could be a major leaguer. I thought he’d be a very good utility infielder, and that his bat would be more-than-acceptable at that position. But a combination of Seager’s early success and Chone Figgins struggles for the past two years have created a lot of support for Seager to be the team’s “third baseman of the future.”
So I’m stuck in a weird spot. I think that I liked Seager more than the average fan when he was drafted in 2009. But I still don’t think he’s got a long future as a third baseman in the big leagues.
It’s not that Seager isn’t capable defensively. He may not have an ideal third-baseman’s arm, but his glove is plenty good, and his transfer from glove to hand and his release is quick enough that he’ll be able to make most plays. He’s simply not what teams look for in a third baseman offensively.
I think an important distinction to be made here is the difference between perception and reality.
Perception is that third basemen are generally power hitters. That’s false. The league average wRC+ for non-pitchers, by definition, is always 100. Last year the average wRC+ for third baseman was 92. That means that third baseman hit eight percent below league average for all positions. Seager had a 94 wRC+ last year in 201 MLB plate appearances.
However, the reality is that teams strive to field power-hitting third basemen. Power-hitters are important. Those guys usually have big bodies. Guys with big bodies are not able to cover as much ground as guys with smaller bodies. Thus, big guys are put at third base. Those guys usually don’t offer enough defensively at third base to remain there. Sometimes they do, and they are called Miguel Cabrera: The Third Baseman when their team signs an even larger first baseman. Sometimes they don’t and they are named Russell Branyan (yay!) and Chris Shelton (ew).
Maybe soft-hitting third basemen are something of a market deficiency. Chone Figgins and his ever shrinking production have probably provided evidence to the contrary for the past two seasons, but there may be some validity to the idea.
Of all the players who played more than 900 innings at third base last year, only Placido Polanco, Danny Valencia, Brent Morel, and Alberto Callaspo boasted an ISO below .150, which is four points higher than Seager’s .146 ISO in the minor leagues. Both Valencia and Morel are pretty big guys (both measure in at 6-2, 220 lbs) and they are both played two seasons or less in the bigs. Polanco and Callaspo, who are both smaller and have played longer, have had to supplement their playing time with significant time at other positions. Polanco has played about two-thirds of his career at second base, while Callaspo was in the same boat until was traded to the Angels. In both cases these players had very good offensive second basemen blocking them at their natural position (Chase Utley, Howie Kendrick), while their farm systems didn’t have any prospects primed to knock them out of their position.
That’s not the case in Seattle. The Mariners have about a dozen viable third base options if you include the guys that presently play shortstop and second base in the minor leagues.
The Mariners will have a shortstop in the future. I think it will be Brad Miller or Nick Franklin. Whichever one of those guys isn’t the shortstop of the future is going to have to switch off the position to become a big league regular. And even if they play well enough to take over second base, and move Dustin Ackley to center field, they’ll ultimately be taking plate appearances away from Seager. I’m also very high on Francisco Martinez, who has the athletic ability to be a great defender, and the offensive ability to become perhaps the team’s best all-around third baseman ever.
So if Kyle Seager remains a third baseman, he’ll be constantly looking over his shoulder. And when he looks over his shoulder he’s going to see a mob of guys who are looking to take his job, and really soon he’ll probably see those guys pass him up.
That isn’t to say that I don’t think that Seager should be on the 2012 MLB roster. I do. I think they should keep him on the roster over Carlos Guillen. I just think that the Mariners need to use him a little differently. Last year I said that Seager should learn to play left field. I think he should try to get better at shortstop to. I think that he should attempt to become a better version of what Jack Hannahan was supposed to be going into 2010.
I don’t think that any other team believes that they have a “Rich Amaral of the future.” I think the Mariners do, and I think his name is Kyle Seager.