Seager not deterred by pressure of potential
Dodgers infield prospect honing skills in Arizona Fall League
PHOENIX -- Back in June 2012, the Dodgers held the 18th pick in the First-Year Player Draft, one spot ahead of the Cardinals.
In each of the previous nine Drafts before 2012, Los Angeles selected a pitcher with its first pick, the most noteworthy being Clayton Kershaw and Chris Reed. This time around, however, the Dodgers opted for the raw talent of a high school infielder, taking Corey Seager out of Northwest Cabarrus High School in North Carolina. The Cardinals followed by selecting Michael Wacha, a college arm from Texas A&M.
Now a season and a half after the fact, those two picks have become tied together through recent playoff events. Although 17 other teams passed on Wacha, the Dodgers are coming off a National League Championship Series loss to the Cardinals in which the rookie right-hander beat the club twice and was named the NLCS MVP.
Those sorts of almost-immediate results have put some added pressure on Seager, who, despite being at least a few years behind Wacha in terms of reaching the big leagues, already has turned quite a few heads in his brief professional career while rising to the top of many prospect boards.
At the tail end of his first full season in the Minors, the 19-year-old Seager is playing for the Glendale Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League as the youngest prospect participating in what is often referred to as the finishing school for baseball's next stars.
"I don't look at what other people are doing, because I can't control it," said Seager of where he was drafted. "I'm just trying to get better, especially here, because I believe that playing with better players makes you want to improve. So I'm not worried about anything else, I have no expectations coming here, I just want to see where I compare to everybody else's top guys and just have fun."
Ranked No. 2 (No. 47 overall) on the Dodgers' Top 20 Prospects list, Seager began 2013 with a bang, showing his ability to hit for average and power in 74 games with Class A Great Lakes, batting .309 with 12 homers and 18 doubles before earning a promotion to Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga. There, however, he struggled a bit with his consistency at the plate, hitting just .160 in 27 games before heading to Arizona.
"It's not fun ending on a bad note, then you have to think about it for the rest of the offseason. So it's nice to come here and get a new ending," Seager said. "I'm trying to fix some of the stuff that went wrong, and it's a good test here, because right off the bat, you can tell pitchers are bigger, stronger, faster, and [they] throw harder with more command."
From the onset of Seager's pro career, there has been speculation about whether he could stick at his drafted position, shortstop, or be moved to third base, where his brother Kyle plays for the Mariners. Standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 215 pounds, Seager is significantly larger than the average Major League shortstop, but he has maintained all along his desire to stay at short and show he can be a great defender at a premium position.
"I guess that's the right terminology, wanting to prove people wrong," said Seager, who has played solely at shortstop in the AFL so far. "I'm going to play there until they tell me to move, and hopefully they don't tell me to move, because I love it at short. You can always get a little faster, get a little better arm, get a little better with all the reads, but right now it's pretty solid. I just work every day at it, and we'll see where it goes."
Although named to the West Division squad for the Nov. 2 Fall Stars Game, Seager has struggled with the bat in the AFL. Entering the league's sixth and final week, Seager was hitting only .161 with three doubles, two home runs and 10 RBIs in 16 games. Yet Seager is still confident he's improving with each at-bat and building toward a strong campaign in 2014.
"It's been fun, it's been real low-key, just getting your work in," Seager said. "There's no pressure, no nothing. It's just coming out here and playing baseball against the best guys. Can't beat that."
Dodgers pitchers in the Fall League
Jarret Martin had always been a starter in his professional career until midway through the 2013 season, when the Dodgers decided to move the 24-year-old into the bullpen after he went 5-7 with a 4.79 ERA in 14 starts for Rancho Cucamonga. The decision paid immediate dividends for Martin, who finished his season extremely strong, earning a promotion to Double-A Chattanooga, where he made 11 appearances and boasted a 1.69 ERA while striking out 11 batters in 10 2/3 innings.
"I really started to get in a groove, I cleaned up my mechanics and cleared my mind," Martin said. "I simplified a lot of stuff and just pounded the zone with my best stuff. They believe that this is a faster route to the big leagues, so I'm going with it. I want to pitch in the Major Leagues, and if that is as a reliever, that's what I want to do."
Wanting to see him work more in relief, the Dodgers sent Martin to Arizona for him to try his hand against some stiff competition in the Fall League. The left-hander has struggled at times, but overall he's held his own in 11 outings through the league's first five weeks with a 0-1 record and 6.08 ERA. Walks have been the biggest thorn in Martin's side, as he has issued 16 free passes in 13 1/3 innings on top of the 62 walks he gave up in the regular season.
"It's been a little rough from where I want to be, so now I'm trying to work through some things," Martin said. "It's an everyday battle. We're not robots, the human element sets in and sometimes you overthink stuff. For me, that's a lot of it. It hasn't been any secret -- I'll go one game lights out, then walk four in an inning the next day. It's just getting back out there and trusting the work you put in will pay off."
Eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this winter, Martin is hoping he can bounce back in the AFL and make a strong impression on the Dodgers moving forward.
"It's a big offseason for me," Martin said. "I'm just going to try to pound the zone, that's my No. 1 goal. I feel like I've taken big steps and I'm going to push it into next year."
No. 12 prospect Yimi Garcia is coming off a season in which he made 49 appearances for Chattanooga, striking out 85 batters in just 60 1/3 innings. A hard-throwing right-hander with a good slider, Garcia worked 10 2/3 innings over nine appearances, all in relief, for an 0-1 record and a 3.38 ERA as the AFL headed into its sixth and final week of play.
Pedro Baez came to Arizona following his first season as a pitcher after converting from an infielder. The right-hander appeared in 48 games between Class A Advanced A and Double-A, finishing with a 3.88 ERA. The Dodgers want Baez to get more experience as a reliever, so they sent him to the AFL, where he appeared four times in relief.
Mike Thomas was originally a 35th-round Draft pick in 2011, but his career ERA of 2.75 in the Minors has put him on the map in the Dodgers' farm system. The 6-foot-2 left-hander appeared in 45 games this season between Rancho Cucamonga and Chattanooga, compiling a 2.87 ERA with 68 strikeouts in 59 2/3 innings. In five Fall League outings, he was 0-1 with a 4.76 ERA in five relief appearances.
Dodgers hitters in the Fall League
Pratt Maynard has had difficulties staying healthy throughout his career that dates back to 2011, when the Dodgers selected him in the third round. That's why the club sent him to Arizona, to get more at-bats against high-level competition. The 23-year-old catcher hit .246 this season in 69 games for Rancho Cucamonga and is 2-for-8 with three walks in his first four games in the AFL.
Brian Cavazos-Galvez was the oldest position player on the Desert Dogs' roster at 26, but the outfielder's experience proved valuable. Through five weeks, he hit .224 with three doubles, two homers and five RBIs.
Chris O'Brien split time between two levels this year, mostly in Rancho Cucamonga, and hit a combined .199 with 26 RBIs. The catcher made 13 appearances during the Fall League's first five weeks, hitting .231 with four doubles, one home run and eight RBIs.
Tyler Emerick is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.