“Defense has always been the thing that I’ve worked on,” Seager says. “That’s been my inner battle, to stay at shortstop.”
Much of the speculation around this offseason’s trade of Hanley Ramirez and acquisition of veteran shortstop Jimmy Rollins has revolved around Seager in one way or another. The main thought line is this: Rollins is a two-year stopgap to bridge the way to Seager.
“To be honest, no, I don’t keep up with the off-field stuff probably as much as I should,” says Seager. “I just come out here, try to learn, go see how [Rollins] goes about his business, watch how it’s done by professional who’s done it for a while.”
The toughest part about staying at shortstop, for Seager, is his length. Built more like an outfielder at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, Seager has to battle himself more often than not, to develop as a shortstop. Very few players his size -- Mike Morse comes to mind – stay at shortstop very long into their professional careers.
“It’s just you’ve got to stay lower than anybody else,” Seager says. “You’ve got to do the little things a little more – stay underneath, watch the ball in the air – that’s probably been the biggest thing for me.”
As little as he pays attention to the off-the-field, those machinations from the front office cleared the way for Seager to be invited to big league camp this year, where he’s gone 4-for-14 with five runs, one RBI and four walks to five strikeouts over the first two games. This isn’t Seager’s first rodeo in big league spring training games, though. He’s seen time in seven games over the previous two seasons, going 3-for-12 with three singles. This year, though, is different.
“I was excited and nervous, at the same time,” Seager said. “I didn’t know what to expect. Here I am, just finding out what it’s like. I found out middle-to-late December.”
That’s precisely when the team made the moves that ostensibly cleared the way for Seager to take the six spot in a few season’s time.
“It’s fun. It’s exciting, it’s laid back, you go about your business, you get done, you get off the field. It’s a good time,” Seager said.
“I mean, he looks really good, obviously,” Mattingly says. “A lot of things other people see are the same things we see. It’s just camp, but we like the way he handles himself. He picks things up quickly. Other than that, he’s still part of getting better all the time, and we treat him like everybody else in camp, give him his reps, put him in the drills, make sure he’s knowing where he’s supposed to go. He looks really good. I think we all really like him.”
Seager will see time “exclusively” at shortstop, he says, and he’s only played one game at shortstop during his minor league career, so that should come as no surprise.
Seager’s older brother Kyle Seager is the third baseman for the Seattle Mariners, and he’s consulted his older brother about big league camp.
“He kind of told me to stay in the shadows, stay off everybody’s toes, mind your business and go about it and watch,” and be as small as a 6-foot-4 guy can be, Seager says.
Seager has, though, come into the light a bit, thanks to the annual rite of spring that is the Dodgers’ clubhouse ping pong tournament.
“You just play against a guy, you joke around and you find an in,” Seager says. “It’s easier to play somebody in ping pong than go up to his locker and talk. That’s helped. I’ve been in the organization a couple years now, so I kind of know what to expect, but it’s a little different.”
Ping pong has helped Seager negotiate the first-day-of-school jitters associated with his first big league camp, a feeling he hasn’t had in a while, since he decided to forego a National Letter of Intent with then two-time defending NCAA champs South Carolina.
“I had good conversations with my brothers about their experiences with college, and their experiences in pro ball, and it was basically, if you think you can handle taking care of yourself, then pro ball is the way to go. Some people aren’t mature enough for it, and I didn’t know if I was going to be, and talking with them, talking with my family, it seemed to be the right choice for me.”
Seager acknowledges that the toughest part of not having the intermediate step of college ball – as Kyle did at North Carolina, and Justin Seager did at UNC Charlotte – has been taking care of his body.
“I was buying my own food, didn’t know exactly what to take care of,” Seager says. “That was probably the hardest part to me.”
With organizational expectations for him what they appear to be, he’ll have to grow up even more, even sooner.