When the Brewers opted to trade right-hander Zack Greinke to the Los Angeles Angels last July, GM Doug Melvin and the club pulled the trigger because they felt shortstop Jean Segura could be the Brewers’ starting shortstop for the next half decade.
Segura was only 22 years old when he came to Milwaukee. He tried to make the substantial jump from Double-A to the majors. Understandably, the transition proved difficult at the very beginning. He struggled in August, hitting only .209/.250/.239 in 19 games. The month of September brought optimism, though, as he flourished down the stretch with a .309/.378/.407 slash line over his final 25 games.
That performance in September likely played a part in the Brewers’ handing over the reins to Segura at the shortstop position this season. The organization signed veteran Alex Gonzalez, but made it clear he would be returning in a reserve capacity. He’s expected to see time around the infield. The team has repeatedly said that he’ll see time at first base this spring, as well, in case Mat Gamel struggles or experiences a serious set-back with his surgically-repaired knee.
The organization is excited about Segura, a native of the Dominican Republic, and it’s not difficult to understand why. FanGraphs’ Mike Newman said last August that Segura was “the best shortstop I’ve scouted not named Jurickson Profar.” He talked about his power-speed combination, and he also mentioned a tweet by Peter Gammons that referred to Segura as the “middle infield equivalent to Raul Mondesi” in terms of his physical gifts.
Of course, deficiencies exist in Segura’s game. He’s slightly below-average defensively at shortstop — though, admittedly better than expected — and he struggles against quality offspeed pitches. He swung at 39.4% of the pitches out of the strike zone that he saw last year. The Brewers appear willing to work through those growing pains with him as the everyday shortstop. It will be important, though, that the organization remains patient and doesn’t panic if he spins his wheels at the plate early in the season or commits a few errors. They’re committing to Segura. They have to be willing to accept and work through the mistakes.
With that said, Segura showed some nice things in his two months with the Brewers. Most notably, he displayed a willingness to go up the middle and to right field with the baseball. Here is a spray chart of his hits at the big league level last year:
Unlike many young players, this spray chart does not illustrate a pull-happy approach at the plate. Segura used the entire diamond — especially in September — which will ultimately make him more successful as a hitter and more difficult to pitch against for opposing teams.
He also utilizes his speed well. Segura stole 44 bases last year between the Angels’ and Brewers’ organizations, and he should be a threat to steal 30+ bases in 2013 assuming he receives enough plate appearances. In addition, Segura only compiled a 19.2% fly ball rate last season. He clearly understands that his home run power isn’t developed enough to be effective at the big-league level, so he is keeping the baseball on the ground. He hit 65.6% ground balls last year. That allows him to utilize his speed by putting pressure on opposing defenses and beating out some balls that would normally be routine ground outs.
That ground ball rate will likely decrease as he gets older and matures as a hitter. He will hit more line drives and fly balls, as he projects to have double-digit home run power down the road. Then, as Newman notes in his scouting report, Segura could be an impact player for the Brewers who hits 15+ home runs and steals 30+ bases per year.
Last season, only one shortstop eclipsed the 15 home run mark and also stole at least thirty bases. That was Philadelphia’s Jimmy Rollins. Rollins was also the only shortstop to do so in 2011. In fact, over the last 20 years, only seven shortstops have collected at least 15 home runs and 30 stolen bases in a single season. They include:
Pretty good company. The Brewers would be thrilled if Segura developed into that caliber of talent, even if his defense never improved. Of course, all of this remains projection. Jean Segura did not even connect for a single home run last season, so it’s foolish to consider the young man a lock for 15+ home runs on an annual basis. After all, he’s only turning 23 years old next month.
The potential is there, though, so it’s difficult to blame the organization for trading Zack Greinke for a prospect package headlined by a shortstop who could become an impact player at the big league level. And small-market teams like Milwaukee thrive on cost-controlled impact players. That’s why the Brewers have opted to hand over the everyday position to Segura this season instead of settling for a one-year stopgap. He could become an impact player. On the same point, that’s also why the Brewers need to remain patient and let Segura work through his struggles at the big league level. He could eventually become an impact player.
Let the Jean Segura Era begin.