Prospect Retrospective: Kyle Seager, 3B, Seattle Mariners

Kyle Seager - Rick Yeatts

A reader recently asked me to do a Prospect Retrospective for Seattle Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager. He's a good subject and I aim to please, so here goes.

Kyle Seager played college baseball at the University of North Carolina. He was quite successful, hitting .308/.349/.398 as a freshman in 2007, .347/.421/.597 as a sophomore in 2008, and .393/.487/.592 as a junior in 2009. Strong numbers, although keep in mind that this was before the change in metal bats reduced offensive production in the NCAA. Scouts weren't sure how much of that power would translate to pro ball.

Drafted in the third round in '09, he was sent to Clinton in the Midwest League and hit .275/.360/.346 (note the lack of power) with eight doubles and one homer in 153 at-bats. I saw him late in the year and, well, he had a pretty swing but didn't impress me all that much. Here is the report I wrote for my 2010 book:

Seager was a third round pick last June, from the University of North Carolina. He has a nice-looking swing and good command of the strike zone, but was unable to translate his college power into the professional context, being rather punchless in his first 44 pro contests. Defensively, he’s best at second base but can play third base without killing you; his range is too limited for shortstop on a regular basis. He’s fundamentally sound; scouts like his hustle and makeup. I think Seager is an interesting player, but my guess is that he’s more of a utility guy than a future starter. Grade C.

Moved up to High Desert in 2010, Seager hit .345/.419/.503 with 40 doubles, 14 homers, 71 walks, and 94 strikeouts in 557 at-bats. A fine season, although it was High Desert, California League power "breakouts" are often false, and scouting reports continued to emphasize his pure hitting ability over power potential, which was still rated as just adequate by most observers. Here's what I wrote in my 2011 book:

As you can see, Seager had an outstanding year in the California League, with a +20 percent OPS and leading the minor leagues with 192 hits. How much of this is an illusion based on his home park? Well, apparently not very much of it: he hit .345/.427/.504 at home, but .344/.411/.502 on the road, virtually identical. His plate discipline was good and he owns genuine gap power, although scouts don’t think he’ll hit tons of homers at higher levels. Even discounting the High Desert effect, the Cal League is a great place to hit, and while Seager had a legitimately strong year, I think he is more of  a .270-.280 hitter in the future than someone who will top .300 consistently. Grade C+.

Seager began '11 at Double-A Jackson, hitting .312/.381/.459 in 66 games. He continued ripping at Triple-A Tacoma (.387/.444/.585 in 24 games) and played 53 games in the majors, hitting .258/.312/.379 and exceeding rookie qualifications. Entering 2012, he still looked like a guy who would hit .270-.280 to me, with decent on-base abilities but without big power.

But that's not what happened. Instead we had a .259/.316/.423, 20 homer mark in '12, followed by a .260/.338/.426, 22 homer line in '13, and a .274/.343/.474 run so far in '14. He's on pace to exceed 20 homers again and we're seeing a steady uptick in overall production, his wRC+ marks going from 108 to 113 to 129. Keep in mind that he's doing this in a strong pitcher's park.

So what's going on here? Seager's power comes when he pulls the ball. However, when he was in college and in the minors, his reputation was as an all-field hitter with gap power, not a guy who would pull the ball for home runs. When I saw him in person he looked like a guy who was, well, an all-field hitter with gap power but not a guy who would hit many home runs. I wish we had access to his college and low minor league spray charts to see when/how that changed, or if the aggregate results at the time didn't match the reputation and short-term observations.

Career-wise, his pre-season comparables list (based on a modified version of Sim Score that I'm working on) are Sal Bando, Howard Johnson, Tim Wallach, Alex Gordon, Grady Hatton, Gene Freese, Chris Brown, Doug Rader, Hank Thompson, Gary Gaetti, and Edwin Encarnacion. No Hall of Famers there, but everyone except Brown had a long career and even he made an All Star team.

In any event, I was wrong about Seager. When he was in the minors I thought he would be a useful utility guy or role player. Instead, he's currently one of the top third basemen in the major leagues and is on course for a long and successful career.

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