GLENDALE, Ariz. – If Corey Seager handles the rest of his time with the Los Angeles Dodgers as well has he did last year’s awkward get-to-know-you phase, then perhaps the greatness that Adrian Gonzalez has predicted really will come to fruition.
It was in January that Gonzalez dropped a stunner, admitting that he has called Seager a potential Hall of Famer. So much for bringing along the kid slowly, and with reasonable expectations.
“I told this to Eric Young when we were playing against the Rockies last year and [Seager] was still in the minors,” Gonzalez said. “We were talking about prospects and I told him that [Seager] was a special kid, that he’s a kid that I could see being a Hall of Famer, and that was before anybody put him as a No. 1 prospect. This was early in the year last year. He has the talent and the makeup, the potential. I think he is going to be a great major leaguer for a long time.”
It wasn't like Seager was an unknown at the start of last year, but Gonzalez still gets bravado credits for not only telling somebody about Seager's Hall of Fame potential, but then revealing it to the masses.
How does somebody handle such expectations? Dodgers second baseman Howie Kendrick offered some insight, saying that Seager has the perfect makeup to handle the weight that comes with tag of being a can’t-miss player.
“When I was with the Angels, I played against his brother for a long time in Seattle and I really like his brother, Kyle Seager,” Kendrick said. “Kyle is an awesome guy and I really didn’t know what to expect with Corey. Once I got around Corey, I was like, ‘Man, it must just run in the family.’ Both of those guys are really awesome people, who they are as people, let alone as players.”
There are no two higher compliments in baseball. One teammate thinks you will be immortalized in Cooperstown one day and another calls you an ideal human being with parents who are to be commended.
That both of those admiring teammates will share the Dodgers infield with the 21-year-old Seager this season, would seem to lend itself to a smooth transition to everyday life in the major leagues. A major part of his transition has already taken place as he spent a successful month with the Dodgers last season.
He saw a division chase firsthand and participated in the playoffs. None of it can be underestimated. Big stadiums, packed houses, the expectations placed upon a major leaguer … it’s all something Seager already has in his rearview mirror.
“That aspect, I guess yes, that’s done now,” Seager said. “The performance aspect, no. You still have to go out there and perform, be ready. But that aspect of seeing stadiums for the first time, the size, the crowds, all that stuff, you’re kind of getting above that, you’d say. We’ll see.”
Barring injury or complete shock, Seager will be the starting shortstop for the team with the highest payroll in the game, all while he is practically making the league minimum. Seager’s goal is to just keep it about hitting the ball, catching the ball and throwing the ball.
“And it’s a longer season,” he said. “I’ve talked to people about that. There is no way around it. It’s long; it’s a grind. You just have to get out there and be on the field, be out there as much as you can and just go out and play and not think about it too much.”
While his brother has been in the major leagues since 2011, Seager said that much of his adjustment to life in the show last year is credited to Jimmy Rollins, the guy who held the Dodgers shortstop job before he did. Rollins signed a minor league deal with the Chicago White Sox this week.
“It was huge; it really was,” Seager said of his time with Rollins last year. “From every aspect of the game, when to come to the park, how to come to the park, how to act, all that stuff. How to be on the field, what to do. Everything like that was huge.”
Corey Seager sure looked comfortable in his new setting, getting off to a blazing start in his first major league stint. Halfway through his 27 regular-season games he was batting better than .400 with a slugging percentage near .650. He ended that brief run batting .337, while slugging .561.
Outside of being complimentary, manager Dave Roberts hopes the veterans on the infield help Seager settle into his one once the season starts.
“It will help in two ways, having veterans on the ballclub will help Corey,” Roberts said of the infield presence of not only Kendrick and Gonzalez, but Justin Turner and Chase Utley. “One, he’s around guys who are professionals who have done things the right way for a long time. A couple of days ago, you see Chase out there with Corey, talking about the mechanics of second base and the shortstop/second base relationship.
“Also, there is the component of being the young player who has expectations put on him by fans, media or whoever it might be, because of his skill set. When you have good players around you, veteran players to carry a little more of the load, as a young player it’s a nice way to get to establish yourself.”
Nonetheless, all eyes will be on Seager. Expectations are there not only because of his talent, but because of the recent splash made by top prospects such as Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros and Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs. Each player is different, of course, but if there is one thing baseball likes to do, it’s to copy the latest trends.
So what kind of expectations will Seager place upon himself?
“You just have to win,” he said. “You hope your numbers are there at the end of the year, but as long as the team is winning, it really doesn’t matter.”
It seems clear that he already understands what it is all about.