Pro Baseball: Seager in Los Angeles
By David Shaw
KANNAPOLIS — Kindly excuse 18-year old Corey Seager if he feels like his brain has been running a marathon this month.
The Kannapolis Legion infielder had a decision to make — and it wasn’t like choosing between onion rings and fries.
“This hasn’t been easy,” Seager said prior to a Legion game earlier this week. “I know a change is coming.”
Seager is actually sitting pretty these days. The Los Angeles Dodgers made him the 18th pick in baseball’s amateur draft shortly after 9 p.m. on June 3.
And on Thursday, he was not in the lineup for Kannapolis against Mocksville. He was flying to the west coast.
"We knew negotiations had really stepped up between Jeff (Corey's father) and the Dodgers and we sort of knew the Mooresville game Wednesday night would be Corey's last one," Kannapolis coach Joe Hubbard said. "He still helped us win one last game, and now we just wish him the best. All summer, it's been kind of day to day, not knowing when we might lose him, and now we know. He flew out to L.A. early this morning to take his physicals. Maybe he hasn't officially signed yet, but you know now that it's going to get done.
“It was a blast coaching him."
Seager had registered for fall classes at the University of South Carolina, bolstered by a scholarship and the prominence that comes with playing ball for a national title contender.
“South Carolina is not a bad second option,” said Seager earlier this week about signing a national letter-of-intent with USC on Feb. 12. “That’s the way I’ve looked at it all along. That was my fallback if the draft didn’t work out.”
The draft has certainly worked out, though Seager wasn’t sure when — or even if — his name would be called.
“I was just hoping to go,” he said with boyish enthusiasm. “It got crazy with all the scouts at our games. When it happened, it was a feeling you can’t explain. You get your name called and just kind of freeze. I was tongue-tied. It’s like, did that really just happen? Did I hear right?”
He did, and Kannapolis teammate William Miller was a sworn-in witness.
“The ESPN analysts kept saying Corey had the best-looking swing of anyone in the draft,” said Miller, a lifelong friend and outfielder for Northwest Cabarrus High School. “They called him a baseball rat. I’ve played with him and against him, seen him from both sides. He’s for real.”
The Dodgers, who project the 6-4, 205-pound Seager as a shortstop or third-baseman, agree. They made him the first position player they’ve chosen in the first round since James Loney in 2002. Suffice to say the Dodgers have pushed a large stack of chips toward the center of the table.
“He knows he’s lucky,” said Jeff Seager, Corey’s father and representative. “He knows he’s blessed. But he also knows he’s put in a lotta, lotta, lotta extra hours — and that usually pays off.”
Seager just finished a blue-ribbon senior season at Northwest. He batted .519 with 10 home runs, 37 RBIs, 13 stolen bases and a .664 on-base percentage. Stats like that ain’t chopped liver, folks.
“A lot of kids have a lot of abilty,” said Hubbard. “But Corey thinks the game through. From pitch to pitch, at-bat to at-bat, he plays it in his head so much. He understands what a pitcher might try to do in a situation and he recognizes patterns.”
A perfect example came last Saturday at South Rowan. Seager fell behind 0-and-2 against righthander Tyler Sides, worked the count to 3-and-2, then barbecued inside fastball for a Ruthian, 460-foot home run.
“I sawed off a bunch of his offspeed pitches before I hit that,” Seager recalled with a sparkle in his eyes. “So I knew a fastball would be coming sooner or later. I just waited for it. I actually didn’t see it land.”
Who did? Seager’s smooth, compact swing has been described as “viscious with an attitude,” by one onlooker. “He doesn’t miss pitches,” Hubbard said.
Seager’s also got pedigree on his side. Older brother Kyle — Seattle’s third-round pick in 2009 — is currently 12th in the American League with 46 RBIs.
“Kyle’s been a big part of this,” Seager said. “He played at Chapel Hill and told me all the advantages of going to college. It would be a blast. But pro ball is tough. It’s a grind. It’s more mental than physical. And everyone is looking for an advantage, something to make them stand out above the rest.”
Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement requires all draft picks to be under contract by July 13 — and the Dodgers have inked 27 of their 40 selections.
Until last night, Seager heard the same question over over. “When will you sign?”
“Everybody’s asking me that question,” Seager said, shortly before changing from a worn t-shirt to his No. 9 Kannapolis jersey. “I’m just having fun with my friends. I know it’s all about to change, one way or another. But what’s wrong with having one last good time with my friends?”
If your name is Corey Seager, nothing’s wrong with that.
Now that he’s headed west, it’s time to play with the men.
Mike London contributed to this story.