By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
Call it a surprise. Call it a breakthrough. But Kyle Seager isn’t about to let you call his 2012 season an aberration.
Basically, he started the 2012 season as a platoon player, took the third-base job away from a flailing Chone Figgins and developed into arguably the Seattle Mariners’ best hitter.
But don’t think for a second that Seager has sat and rested on his accomplishments. That’s never been his way. He knows he can’t simply rely on his talent because he’s never been the most talented guy on his teams.
“It’s necessary for me,” he said. “I’ve always been a guy that has had to work hard.”
Midway through last season’s spring training, the Mariners decided to give Figgins one last chance to be an everyday player. Figgins quickly played himself out of the lineup, while Seager stepped in and took control of third-base job. He appeared in 155 games last season, starting 153, with 137 coming at third base.
Seager hit .259 and led the team in doubles (35), home runs (20), RBI (86), extra-base hits (56) and multi-hit games (42). He posted a .316 on-base percentage and a .423 slugging percentage.
He ranked second in the American League with 44 two-out RBI, second only to AL MVP Miguel Cabrera, who had 47.
Seager did all of this while often batting third or fourth in the Mariners’ anemic lineup. Even though he was producing, it was a bit much to ask from a 24-year-old with limited big-league experience.
“It just wasn’t really fair to them with where they were and are in their careers,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said of the team’s stable of young players. “They weren’t able to be protected. They weren’t in the best possible position to succeed. But I’m an optimist. Because they had to sink or swim on their own, they will be tougher for it.”
With the additions of Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse, Seager will likely move to the No. 2 position in the batting order or down to Nos. 6 or 7.
In the field, Seager was better than adequate. He showed a knack for fielding bunts and soft rollers and throwing on the run. But there were also difficult times. He committed 13 errors, which was third most in the American League. The Mariners expected a few mistakes as he adjusted to the position at the major-league level. In advanced fielding metrics, Seager had a negative Ultimate Zone Rating of -1.9, but just nine third basemen in all of baseball had positive UZR numbers.
The question is: Will Seager stay at third base? He was a second baseman in college and that’s where most scouts project him to have the most value at the big-league level. But the Mariners have Seager’s Univeristy of North Carolina teammate Dustin Ackley at second. There has been talk of moving Seager to second base and Ackley to left field if the team can find a more traditional slugging third baseman. Unfortunately for Mariners fans, there isn’t one in the farm system.
There was some thought that Alex Liddi might be that guy, but his struggles with strikeouts tempered that hope. The Mariners’ 2012 minor league player of the year — Stefen Romero — will play some at third base this season after spending most of his time at second base. Romero’s bat profiles more as a third baseman, but there questions about whether or not he can make the defensive adjustment.