PEORIA, Ariz. — It has been easy to almost overlook Kyle Seager this spring, which is a testament to how far he’s come since last year.
While the team wonders if Dustin Ackley will bounce back, and if Justin Smoak will finally figure things out, and while sorting out any number of contingencies all over the diamond, the Mariners have a comparative rock of stability in Seager.
He’s the least of manager Eric Wedge’s concerns. Seager is preparing for 2013 quietly and out of the spotlight, particularly as the rest of the team bashes its way through the Cactus League. Monday, Seager crashed that party, crushing his first spring homer, a three-run shot to right in Seattle’s 16-6 win over Colorado.
Wedge’s desire for Seager this season?
“Just keep on the path,” he said. “He obviously proved to everybody that’s he’s very capable of being successful in the big leagues last year. He’s still a young player with not much experience, like most of our guys. I just want him to stay on the path.”
At this time last spring, it looked like Seager’s path might take him back to Tacoma. Seager was no lock to make the team, his job assured only when Mike Carp was injured in the season opener against Oakland in Japan.
That forced Chone Figgins into left field and opened up third base for Seager, who took the opportunity and sprinted with it. While adjusting to a relatively new position, Seager led the Mariners in homers (20) and runs batted in (86) while hitting .259.
“It’s amazing how things work out,” Seager said. “A lot of things had to happen. I knew I was going to be in the running for a job, whether it be the utility infielder or whatever. You don’t ever wish for anyone to get hurt. That’s not the way you want anything like that to happen. It’s crazy how things ended up.”
Despite having his job assured, Seager is far from complacent. While his production was good for a player in his first full season, he said he wants to do better.
“It’s definitely a different feeling, but at the same time, I think if you ever get comfortable in this game you’re going to be left behind,” he said. “Last year had its good parts, but I felt there was a whole lot, personally, I need to improve upon. It’s not really a settled feeling at all for me.”
In particular, Seager wants to avoid what he calls “some lulls” he had during the season. That includes the entire month of June, when he hit .204.
“Last year was awesome just to get the feel of a full season, and know what it’s like to do the day-to-day thing,” he said. “I had some lulls during the season that maybe this year, as much as I learned about my swing in general and what it takes, especially learning from the guys they brought in, it could definitely help that.”
One of the Mariners’ goals in obtaining Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales was to keep younger players like Seager out of the high-visibility spots in the middle of the batting order.
In 70 games hitting third last year, Seager batted .250 with a .709 on-base plus slugging percentage, while in 51 games batting fifth, he hit .306 with an .810 OPS. (In the smaller sample size of 15 games at cleanup, Seager hit .236 but with an .874 OPS).
Seager could be locked into the No. 5 spot behind Morales and Morse, though Wedge still is tinkering with batting orders.
“Any time you can throw guys like that in the middle of the order, it helps everybody,” Seager said. “I think it’s definitely beneficial to everybody, not just the guys who were hitting in the middle of the order. It should help up and down the lineup.”
It’s far too soon to claim cause and effect, but the Mariners have been scoring runs at a breakneck pace this spring, with Seager’s homer on Monday their 24th in 11 games.
“It’s been great,” he said. “It’s something where the home runs might not stay at that pace, obviously, but you look across the team, you look at the potential lineups we could throw out, and it should be a very much improved offense. All the younger guys have another year of experience, and all the guys we brought in have a great track record.”
Now Seager, as he unobtrusively proceeds down “the path,” wants to add to his own track record.