The hot corner is arguably the hardest position to play on the baseball diamond. Whether you’re fielding screaming line drives hit down the line, charging soft bunts and throwing on the run, or making the longest throw to first in the infield, a third baseman needs a very unique and complete set of skills. Add in the expectation of being one of the best hitters on the team, and very few can do this job better than Seattle Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager.
Despite being selected for his first All-Star Game and winning the American League Gold Glove Award at third last year, Seager is not a household name. He is often overshadowed even on the Mariners by second baseman Robinson Cano, rightfielder and designated hitter Nelson Cruz, and starting pitcher Felix Hernandez.
Seager doesn’t mind being in the shadows, though. “I definitely prefer to be under the radar,” he said before a recent game. “Some guys kind of enjoy the spotlight, but that’s never been my personality. I’ve always liked to get in, do the work I need to do, and go about my business.”
Besides Seager’s award-worthy fielding, his bat is a key cog in the Mariners’ lineup in the fifth spot. In an impressive year in 2014, which saw the Mariners barely miss the playoffs, Seager batted .268 with 25 home runs and 96 RBI.
Nearing this year’s All-Star break, Seager is hitting just under .260, and he has crushed 12 home runs, batted in 38 runs, and put up 16 doubles. His RBI and home run totals trail only Cruz on the Mariners.
The team’s success last season was partially attributed to the addition of Cano, but Seattle struggled to find a consistent, productive designated hitter for the cleanup spot behind Cano. Enter free agent Nelson Cruz, the 2014 home run leader, who was selected as the American League’s starting DH in this year’s All-Star Game.
“Cruz is a guy who pitchers don’t want to necessarily pitch to,” said Seager. “Hitting behind him is definitely good in the sense that you’re going to have guys on base, you’re going to get in good position to succeed.”
And Seager will be in a position to make an impact in Seattle for years to come. Going into the 2014 offseason, he was eligible for salary arbitration, with three years left on his contract. Instead of potentially signing somewhere closer to his home in Concord, North Carolina, as some thought he would, Seager signed a seven-year, $100 million extension with Seattle that will keep him in the Pacific Northwest for much of his career, barring a trade. Seager’s hard work finally paid off after he earned just $425,000 in 2014.
He grew up playing shortstop influenced by his baseball idol, Derek Jeter. Though Jeter retired last year and Seager is one of the many faces of the new generation, past and future overlapped at last year’s All-Star Game, when Seager had the chance to play with Jeter.
”It’s pretty special,” said Seager of being selected an All-Star. “It puts everything into perspective when you’re out there playing with those other guys who have been doing this for so long and playing with guys you look up to. It was a very special experience.”
In his youth, Seager had long odds of reaching the majors, batting in the ninth spot as a designated hitter for the Kannapolis American Legion team in high school in 2004. After going undrafted in ’06, he decided to play baseball at the University of North Carolina. While there, Seager played with highly recruited second base prospect and current Mariners leftfielder Dustin Ackley.
Seager was able to catch the eye of Mariners scouts who were there to recruit Ackley and his powerful left-handed bat. In the 2009 draft, the Mariners took Ackley with the second overall pick and took Seager in the third round. Seager made his Mariners debut in ’11 and was awarded the starting third base job at the beginning of the following season. He hasn’t looked back since.
He has already won awards many major leaguers only dream of. And he’s locked down third base for the Mariners while providing the power and skill to become indispensable in their lineup, all by age 27. He’s also managed to stay humble. “Everybody works so hard to get here,” Seager said of his time in the big leagues, “and when it finally comes true it’s a very special time.”
Photos: Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images (fielding, gold glove), Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images (batting)