It appears increasingly likely that Jean Segura will be the Philadelphia Phillies third baseman on Opening Day in Miami on March 26. And the organization’s brass can’t seem to say enough positive things about the work that the soon-to-be 30-year-old has put in to make that a possibility.
When general manager Matt Klentak was able to ink Didi Gregorius to a one-year/$14 million deal in free agency, the thought was that Segura, who was the team’s primary shortstop a season ago, would shift to second base. After all, Segura had the best season of his career in 2016, when he played second base for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
However, there does appear to be a desire to get Scott Kingery to second base, his natural position, on a full-time basis. Doing so, would require that Segura, who has never played an inning at third base in the major or minor leagues, move to the hot corner. Klentak says that Segura has embraced the challenge of playing a new position.
“So Scotty can play second, we saw that throughout his minor league career and even back to college,” Klentak said Monday to Jon Marks and Ike Reese on SportsRadio 94 WIP. “We figured he would revert back to playing that position pretty naturally and that’s been the case. Jean was the one that kind of was worth watching. I think the most impressive thing about Segura, even dating back to the fall, is the way he basically conditioned himself to be in better shape. That’s the first thing you noticed when he got here, but we even saw it back in the fall and the early part of the winter when our guys would go work out with him. He was in great shape, he was really committed to coming back this year and having a good year.
“On top of that, just the attitude he’s had about the position change. This guy has been a middle infielder his whole life, either shortstop or second base. Like us, he knows he’s got the arm strength…he’s got the quickness…he’s got the hands to play third base. But until you do it on a regular basis, you don’t know for sure. The first game he played out there, you could see it, he was kind of learning his range…which balls he should dive to his left and which he should just back off and let Didi [Gregorius] pick it up on the second hop and throw it over. So he’s finding his range over there, and with each passing game, you see it better and better that he understands what he’s supposed to do.”
After the Phillies acquired Segura from the Seattle Mariners in December of 2018, he had a relatively disappointing first season with the Phillies. Following three consecutive seasons of hitting .300 or better, Segura’s batting average slipped to just .280 in 2019. His defensive metrics also declined, opening up the debate about potentially shifting him to another position.
In many ways, Segura’s season came to be defined by an at-bat he had in San Diego in early June. Segura hit a lazy pop fly to the right side of the infield with Andrew McCutchen on first base. After stumbling a bit in the batter’s box, he didn’t run to first base, and the Padres allowed the ball to drop, throwing out Segura at first base and getting McCutchen in a run down where he ultimately suffered a season-ending torn ACL. Segura said this spring that while he doesn’t blame himself for McCutchen’s injury, suggestions that he was partially to blame for an injury that helped doom the 2019 season did wear on him and affect his play. Klentak said Monday that he believes Segura’s play was affected by the outside noise.
Whatever troubles he had mentally – or even physically – in the second half of the 2019 season appear to be in the rearview window for Segura. He estimated at the outset of Spring Training that he had lost 14 pounds, thanks in large part to his decision to cut wine and whiskey from his diet. Klentak says Segura just seems to be enjoying the game more as he prepares for his second season in red pinstripes.
“Beyond the physical side, I’ve just been absolutely delighted with the attitude he brought, the hustle, his engagement with the fans. You can see, he’s picking up a foul ball and he’s kind of smiling and tossing the ball into the crowd…just really enjoying playing the game, it’s been a pleasure to watch him.”
Klentak isn’t alone in his thinking. He obviously wasn’t managing the Phillies a season ago, but Joe Girardi was aware of what went on with Segura and offered a nuanced take on the events in a media capacity. Now Segura’s manager, Girardi believes that Segura has had an excellent camp.
“So, when we came to camp, our idea was to move Jean around third to second and Scott around third to second,” Girardi said last week to Angelo Cataldi on SportsRadio 94 WIP. “Jean said ‘I can play second base in my sleep,’ because he did it in Arizona. He said ‘so let me work at third,’ and he has embraced this, which I have been so impressed with Jean Segura in camp, how he has embraced that. He’s made a bunch of good plays. I think he has everything to do it…he has the arm strength…he has the arm angles…he has ability to come in, the ability to come back…the ability to turn double plays quickly from his arm slot, because he had to do it at short. So he said ‘just let me play third, let me see if I can figure this out.’ So that’s what we’ve done.”
Whether Segura’s hard work will translate into him being a serviceable defender at the position will remain to be seen. It could also become a moot point in the future. If there’s a major injury in the outfield, the Phillies may need Kingery to play elsewhere and Segura to move to second base. Though there are concerns about him defensively, top prospect Alec Bohm has a major league ready bat and is a natural third baseman. It’s also possible that Gregorius is only in Philadelphia for a year, and come 2021, the team needs either Segura or Kingery to play shortstop.
All you can really focus on as an athlete, though, is the here and now. Right now, the Phillies want Segura to play third base, and he appears to be eagerly attacking that task.
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