BY SIMON TESKA
The Seattle Mariners take the field Saturday to face the San Diego Padres in their first spring training game of the 2017 baseball season. There’s a new man at shortstop who will make his Mariners debut with high expectations, but will Jean Segura be able to repeat his career-best numbers from last year in a new uniform?
That has to be one of the bigger questions Mariners fans are asking themselves as their team begins the spring training game schedule.
Segura, the 26-year old middle infielder, will be entering his sixth major-league season, but none of them have yielded the numbers quite like last season when he played in the launching pad at Chase Field in Arizona. His first five seasons were played in Milwaukee, which is also a fairly hitter-friendly park.
Welcome to Safeco.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
Segura’s home run totals as a member of the Brewers were 0 (144 at-bats), 12 (588 ABs), 5 (513 ABs), 6 (560 ABs) and 20 (637 ABs), respectively. A jump to 20 homers last year is quite significant, but in all honesty, hitting the long ball isn’t his strength. I expect him to hit second in the Seattle order where he will hope to get on base, run around a little bit and let the big thumpers Nelly Cruz, Robbie Cano and Kyle Seager drive him in.
In his previous four, full seasons, Segura stole 44, 20 and 25 bases with the Brewers and 33 bases last season in Arizona. He also hit .319 for the Diamondbacks as he eclipsed the .300 mark for the first time in his career.
If he can repeat those numbers — .319 average, 33 steals and 20 home runs – the Mariners will be more than pleased. Segura also had a career high in RBIs last year with 64 and a career-best 102 runs scored.
SIGNS HE CAN REPEAT HIS 2016 CAMPAIGN
Segura isn’t just a one-year, out of nowhere success story. He was an all-star in 2013 – his first full season in the majors. The year before while still in the minor leagues, he was selected to the MLB Futures Game – generally reserved for top prospects from the 30 organizations in baseball. In 2011, Segura was named as a “Rising Star” in the Arizona Fall League and was a two-time organization all-star in 2010 and 2012 as a member of the L.A. Angels system before being traded with other players for Zack Greinke.
Point being – he’s always had success and he’s always been projected to be a really good player.
The ‘magical age’ in baseball theories is 27. I’m not sure who created this theory or even if it still holds true, but when hitters turn 27 they are presumed to be “in their prime and playing their best baseball”. Not everyone goes all Nelson Cruz and waits till they are 36 to blast off arguably the best season of their career, but generally speaking 27 is when hitters have it figured out and are playing their best.
Segura will turn 27 on March 17.
While on the topic of popular phrases that I don’t know where they came from – speed never slumps. Segura is still fast, so there’s no reason to think his stolen base numbers will slip. In short, he’s almost at the ‘golden age of productivity’ (I just made that one up. Consider that trademarked) and he still has his speed to help him get on base and be a factor on the base paths.
He will have plenty of protection behind him in the lineup as well, which usually means a lot of fastballs. Segura, like many hitters these days, is a good fast ball hitter. Not too many pitchers will want to walk him with Cano on deck and Cruz staring creepily from the top of the dugout waiting his turn to tee off. Pitches to hit are usually beneficial for players like Segura.
WHY HIS NUMBERS MAY FALTER
It’s kind of hard to duplicate career highs in home runs, doubles, runs scored, on-base percentage and batting average in back-to-back seasons for anyone. The sheer odds of it are I’m sure staggeringly low. By default, I assume he won’t top all of those categories.
If I had to guess which ones, I would assume a slight dip in batting average – something closer to .285 perhaps and maybe more like 15 homers. That’s still a foundation for a solid season, but to top all of those power categories will be a challenging task.
In the ‘don’t blame it on Chase Field’ category, we can look at Segura’s home vs. away split last year courtesy of baseball-reference.com:
It’s a fairly even split. I have seen some players who can’t even remotely hit on the road – it’s disgusting (and not all of them play for the Colorado Rockies).
The Mariners are stressing they can make the playoffs this year after narrowly missing the wild card game last season. Granted, every team always thinks they can make the playoffs in the spring – except maybe the Braves, Phillies, Padres, Angels or Twins this year – but the Mariners do in fact have a legitimate chance.
Jean Segura will be a big part of their success. He needs to stay healthy, he needs to be active on the bases and he needs to hit as close to .300 as possible. If he can do all those things and provide above-average defense, the Mariners can go a long way in the AL West.
Baseball season is finally here. It’s a beautiful, beautiful time of year. Go Mariners!