April 30, 2013
Painting the Black
Segura and Sound
Is it news when a general manager calls one of his players underrated? Should it be? Brewers GM Doug Melvin voiced concerns to Jayson Stark last week about the national coverage of Jean Segura. "I see people talk about the [Jurickson] Profars and even the Dee Gordons," Melvin said. "But they never talk about him. He's an exciting player." Putting aside Melvin's obvious vested interest in Segura, let's give the man what he wants by highlighting his shortstop.
Segura is indeed an exciting player. The 23-year-old is the youngest standout on a surprisingly fun Milwaukee roster. His .349/.386/.470 line entering play on Monday translated into the fifth-best True Average amongst shortstops with 50-plus plate appearances, and his stellar play is one of the causes behind the Brewers' recent surge. Why then is Segura overlooked in favor of the world's supply of Profars and even the Gordons? Presumably due to a combination of three reasons: 1) He plays in Milwaukee; 2) He lacks the elite ceiling of Profar; and 3) He lacks an elite tool, unlike Gordon. What Segura has—a wide and deep skill set—is more than enough to make up for those perceived flaws.
Although Segura's game centers around putting the ball in play, his approach is nuanced beyond swinging at everything, and he shows pitch and strike-zone recognition that hint at potential walk-rate growth. Segura's tremendous ability to put the bat on the ball may cancel out the need to take more free passes. He does not need to focus on a small portion of the zone and can often hit the ball where it's pitched. At times this means expanding the zone, which often carries a negative connotation. There are plenty of scenarios, however, where going with a pitch that's off the plate is a reasonable act.
Segura's bat is bullet-train fast and his barrel reaches its destination in a hasty manner, leading to quality contact. Above-average-to-plus speed adds another dimension to his game, and allows him to convert sub-par contact into hits. Unsurprisingly Segura leads the National League in infield hits so far this season. The speed continues to play once he reaches base, and he's tallied seven stolen bases in eight tries—not including his swipe of first base.
Infield Hit Leaders, 2013
Defensively Segura appears to be an average or better shortstop. He doesn't have the reedy stature of Andrelton Simmons; rather, he is compact with a thick lower half. Still, Segura does not plod, as he has quick feet—or at least quicker feet than his looks suggest. Segura's arm is more of a catapult than a cannon. Average strength plays up thanks to a quick release and his efforts to keep his body behind his arm. If Segura slows in the future he may need to move to second base where he should remain an asset.
The curious thing about Segura is that he remains a work in progress despite his current offensive production. His fastball-hungry approach can be thwarted with a diet of offspeed stuff, for instance. The good news for the Brewers and their fans is that Segura seems to have the instincts and aptitude to make the necessary adjustments.
J.P. Breen of Disciples of Uecker recalled a story from spring training in which Segura provided the hit part of a hit-and-run. Segura waited back on a slider from a right-handed pitcher and hit the ball through the right side of the infield as planned. The impressive part wasn't the result but how he got to that point: by chopping on the ball so to cancel out the threat of a double play on a liner or a pop-up.
A recent series in Los Angeles produced two more positive signs. Against Josh Beckett Segura struck out on a cutter running off the plate. The next time up Segura found himself in another two-strike count. This time he took back-to-back cutters in similar spots before lacing a third cutter into right field and plating a run. In another game Segura had a prolonged encounter with Clayton Kershaw that could have ended after three pitches. Segura would strike out in the end, but not before working a nine-pitch at-bat that saw him foil six pitches in or around the strike zone that clocked in at speeds of 87, 94, 74, 86, 84, 94, and 76 mph. Hanging tough against a top-end pitcher with top-end stuff is a positive sign.
Combine anecdotal bits like those with Segura's to-date production and it's easy to see why Melvin wants people talking about his young shortstop.