Seager poised for breakout rookie year

Dodgers shortstop made impact after callup last season

Seager poised for breakout rookie year

PHOENIX -- The Dodgers start a season with someone as young as Corey Seager in the starting lineup about once a generation.

With the 21-year-old shortstop likely to return from a sprained knee by Opening Day, we asked Adrian Beltre what it was like to be the youngest Los Angeles Dodgers position player to appear in an Opening Day lineup.

"It's just a number," said Beltre, who was two days short of his 20th birthday when he started at third base Opening Day of 1999. "I was never thinking I was too young to play. The media made a big deal about it, but it was just another baseball game I had to play.

"Seager is a good player. We are out there because we believe we belong out there. We belong there to help the team win, and that's how we prepare. It's just a game like you have been playing in your backyard all your life."

Top prospects come and go each season, but once in a great while they are the real deal and arrive real fast. Two current Dodgers who were equally considered can't-miss prodigies -- and proved to be -- are all-in on Seager's immediate future.

"Last year watching what he did on the field, his at-bats and the way he moved at shortstop, you can just tell," said Clayton Kershaw, the most decorated Dodger since Sandy Koufax. "His baseball instincts, he just knows what to do. More than the results, it's the approach. He's not intimidated at all. And when you hang with him off the field, he's just mild-mannered, but he can flip the switch when the game starts.

"I didn't do that well in my first year and a half. He's ahead of my career, for sure. You know, the expectations can get in your head at times. The problem is, people expect him to hit .330 and be the All-Star starter and all that stuff. And he very well could be. But if he hits .280 and plays great defense and gets on base, that's a great year. It's tough sometimes, the expectations. But for me, I don't blame the expectations. I was the hindrance."

Adrian Gonzalez lived up to the expectations of being the first overall pick in the 2000 Draft. He thinks Seager has what it takes to be a Hall of Famer.

"You can tell by his composure, the way he has a feel for the game, the way he handles himself in the clubhouse," Gonzalez said. "Obviously, he has talent. You can tell he has the ability to slow the game down and regroup."

Seager's talent is matched by a humble selflessness.

"It's awesome to be seen that way, but you can't pay too much attention to it," he said. "I still have to go out and work and perform. It's not like you've made it, the skill set and stuff like that, it's not actual performance at the big league level. You've still got to go out and compete and win."

The Dodgers have surrounded Seager with an infield of veterans -- Gonzalez, Howie Kendrick, Chase Utley and Justin Turner.

"We're not expecting him to carry the load in any way," said manager Dave Roberts.

By contrast, Beltre was rushed into the middle of a big league batting order midway through the 1998 season and lost his rookie status while struggling.

Preseason publications are predicting Seager will be the Dodgers' 17th Rookie of the Year and first in 20 years. He has a higher goal.

"To win a championship," he said. "That's the only success you want, or it's failure. Worry about the team first, and the accolades come second. If you're out there every day, your numbers will be there. It's about winning and that's it."

Seager said last September's callup -- when he hit .337 and was given Jimmy Rollins' starting job -- provided a backstage experience that even having a big league brother (Seattle's Kyle Seager) hadn't.

"You watch [Kyle] play, and it's awesome," Seager said, "but you don't see behind the scenes, you don't see the clubhouse, the locker, the dugout. You don't know what's really going on. The key of that month, now you know where to go, where to be, there's no stepping on toes and it's all cleaned up and done."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for reporter T.R. Sullivan contributed to this article. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.