Impactful Seager crucial to middle of lineup

Impactful Seager crucial to middle of lineup

PEORIA, Ariz. -- On a team with a few big-time stars in Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Felix Hernandez, he's not the first name that pops up when people talk about Mariners baseball. But don't underestimate the impact of Kyle Seager on Seattle's club and its chances in 2017.

"I think he is underappreciated," manager Scott Servais said when asked about his third baseman's role. "He's a huge part of what we do here. The energy that he brings, how he goes about his business. I appreciate it, every day being able to write his name in the lineup. It's a great feeling."

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Seager plays with a fierce competitiveness that he hides well off the field with an unassuming nature. He's better at talking about teammates than himself. And he's eager to see how this year's club looks now that the full squad hit the field together for the first time on Monday at the Peoria Sports Complex.

"There's definitely a lot of new guys," said Seager, one of just nine holdovers from the 40-man roster that general manager Jerry Dipoto inherited 17 months ago. "We kind of got used to that last year, but this year being around the position players more, you look at just the athleticism in the room. It's a much more athletic group.

"We were more athletic last year, and this year has taken it to a much more extreme. You get hanging around these outfielders and watch them going through their drills and stuff, you really see that."

Outlook: Seager, 3B, SEA

Dipoto added speedsters Jarrod Dyson and Jean Segura to the top of the order, and those tablesetters can only help the middle-of-the-order trio of Cano, Cruz and Seager when it comes to run-scoring opportunities.

"Absolutely," said Seager, who finished with a career-high 99 RBIs in 2016. "That's an element we really didn't do too well in last year. That's something they obviously had on their to-do list and certainly accomplished it."

In typical Seager fashion, he deadpans when jokingly asked if the added speed atop the order will limit his running opportunities after he stole three bases in 2016.

"You know, I have a pretty firm red light," Seager said with a smile. "I'm trying to talk my way into getting it to just a yellow, but it's pretty firm. If you listen to the meetings, I think pretty much everybody has a green except for me. But we'll see how it plays out. It's Spring Training. We'll see."

Top 10 Right Now: Kyle Seager

Speed may be the only missing element from Seager's game, as he posted a .278/.359/.499 line with 36 doubles and 30 home runs in 2016. His WAR value of 6.9, per Baseball Reference, stands as the highest of any Mariners third baseman in franchise history and ranked seventh among all Major League position players last season.

Seager committed a career-high 22 errors, but he tied for first with the Rangers' Adrian Beltre for defensive runs saved at the hot corner, grading out high in most fielding metrics.

"He's a tremendous defensive player," Servais said. "It's one of the first things he said to me today: 'What happened to me last year defensively with the sloppy errors is not happening.' He takes it very personal. He is a good defender."

As for the offense, Seager has been Mr. Consistent since he took over at third base midway through the 2011 season, with his home runs increasing each year and his averages trending upward at a similarly steady rate.

"When he's going good, he's not just pulling the ball out of the park. He's using the whole field and driving balls into left-center and being a tough out," Servais said. "I think his walk rate went up last year. That's huge for him. Everybody knows he can hit, but just be a tough out consistently.

"He knows the league. The more he plays, he's a smart player. He has a feel for what teams, pitchers and catchers are trying to do against him. That's going to continue to grow."

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.