Evoking Cal Ripken, Dodgers’ Corey Seager proves conventional wisdom about shortstops
When small children join their first baseball team, coaches routinely station the best player at shortstop, arguably the most important and difficult defensive position.
The strategy does not necessarily translate to the Major League level, but when it comes to the Los Angeles Dodgers, what’s to lose?
The Dodgers have tried everything else in the 28 years since they last won a World Series, or even made it to one.
As the team steam toward the post-season with a sizeable lead in the National League West, they are being led there quietly by an unflappable rookie shortstop, Corey Seager.
They may be best known as the home of multiple Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Clayton Kershaw, and for the size of their payroll, a sizeable US$250 million (Dh918.2m)-plus that paces MLB.
But Kershaw and money became secondary this season when the left-hander missed half the season with a back injury, and the star void was filled by first-year phenom Seager, who scratches by on the near-minimum rookie wage of $510,000.
It was a tall order, but Seager has been primed for it. He is exactly what the Dodgers hoped he would be when they made him their top pick (18th overall) in the 2012 amateur draft.
He got his first look at big league pitching in September of 2015, and a month later was placed in the high-pressure No 3 batting hole in the play-offs.
Seager began this season as the favourite to win NL Rookie of the Year honours and has delivered with bells, balloons and a marching band.
He has hit well (.315 batting average), with power (25 home runs) and efficiency across the board. He is a top five NL performer in runs, hits, doubles and WAR (wins above replacement).
Playing so far in 149 of 153 games, Seager, 22, has overshadowed such esteemed and highly compensated veterans as Adrian Gonzalez, and made people forget what a wasted season Yasiel Puig coughed up.
Seager has been so dependably consistent as a rookie that manager Dave Roberts marvelled to ESPN, “This isn’t normal”.
The solid ease with which Seager plays shortstop reminds many of Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, whose tall size contrasted with the usual small, quick shortstops of the 1980s-90s.
Ripken broke the big league mould at the time, proving that a bigger, productive offensive player could play the tough defensive position.
Soon other home run-hitting shortstops were popping up in MLB. But, as a rule, they are still greeted with scepticism. It will not bother Seager.
Perhaps because he has insight to the game through older brother Kyle, an all-star and six-year veteran with the Seattle Mariners, the younger Seager plays with uncommon maturity for his age.
Ripken, now a television analyst, has admired the rookie from afar. The former Baltimore Orioles star told the Inland Valley (California) Daily Bulletin that Seager “doesn’t seem to be alarmed by much.
“He accepts what happens.”
That could benefit the Dodgers in the play-offs, where they have repeatedly flopped despite entering as division winners the last three years, with the best pitcher in the sport.
With each passing post-season disappointment, the grumbling fan base wonders why their expensive roster fails when it counts most.
As the play-offs approach, the team once again will bank on strong starting pitching. Kershaw finally is healthy and pitching well.
Right-hander Kenta Maeda and lefty Rich Hill have been reliable performers, as well.
The difference this time is that the best player on the field is a rookie shortstop. Hey, it works with children.
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Published: September 23, 2016 04:00 AM