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Seager growing into a major role with Dodgers

PHOENIX -- Corey Seager had a little hassle on his hands. His two roommates had been called up to the major leagues a few days earlier on Sept. 1, and it looked like he was going to get stuck cleaning up the kitchen of the house they shared in Oklahoma City.

So, his choices were to wade into the muck created by three guys in their early 20s living hectic baseball lives or risk losing his cleaning deposit. Tough call.

"He's like, 'You guys are going to leave me here with the house to clean up,'" said outfielder Scott Schebler.

But Seager got an unexpected reprieve. His Triple-A manager, Damon Berryhill, called late that night and told him the Los Angeles Dodgers, beset by injuries to their infielders, were calling up Seager, too, weeks ahead of his original timeline.

Seager, 21, was on a plane to San Diego the following morning and Schebler's parents soon got a call at their Iowa home. Their son asked them to make the eight-hour drive south to Oklahoma City. They were the victims of geography. Seager's parents live in North Carolina and pitcher Joe Wieland's live in Nevada. Schebler didn't inform his parents until they got to Oklahoma that he needed them to retrieve the players' belongings and clean the house.

"I'm like, 'Just say thank you to my parents next time you see them,'" Schebler said.

That shouldn't be a problem. Seager, who draws copious praise for his elegant left-handed swing and his rare combination of size and agility, is also widely lauded for his gracious demeanor. In fact, it is Seager's personality that has made him one of the game's most touted young players as much as his tool set, though in reality it's the confluence of the two.

What the Dodgers think they have on their hands with Corey Seager is a player with all the drive and baseball IQ of his older brother, Kyle Seager, an All-Star third baseman for the Seattle Mariners, melded to a more imposing body.

The experiment has only just begun.

Dodgers senior vice president of baseball operations Josh Byrnes said the team had planned to let Seager stay at Oklahoma City through the Pacific Coast League playoffs. Instead, he has played seven meaningful games for the Dodgers, batted .360 with four doubles and, at times, shown that he is, after all, 21 years old. He made two errors in one inning against the Los Angeles Angels and got picked off first base after he hopped a little bit after touching the bag.

And nothing he has done has changed anyone's mind that he could be one of the best players in the major leagues for a decade or more. Scouts seem to be lining up to predict great things.

"He's very process-driven and you see that here, too, just the way he plays the game. He doesn't show much emotion when he plays, similar to his brother," said Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis. "He just goes out and competes and tries to make the right baseball play."

Ellis notes a difference in Seager's at-bats from those of a typical, high-ceiling prospect summoned ahead of his time. Ellis, perhaps the best pitch-calling catcher in the major leagues, makes a living reading hitters' swings. He notes how many of Seager's foul balls are either straight back or lined off the other way.

"That tells you he's not getting too big, not trying to turn. He's comfortable using the whole field," Ellis said. "A lot of times, younger hitters want to get on the pull side, want to get the head out and want to get more aggressive. He's looking for high fastballs he can hit the other way and to pull mistake breaking balls that break in to him."

Seager did have some advantages growing up. Kyle, who is six years older, blazed the family's path to the major leagues and still works out in the offseason with Corey and middle brother Justin Seager, who is a first baseman at Class-A Bakersfield in the Mariners' system. All three boys learned their swings from their father, Jeff Seager, a former college infielder at Fairleigh Dickinson whose professional aspirations were cut short by a broken wrist in his junior season.

Their mother, Jody Seager, a special-education teacher at an elementary school, did a lot of the leg work, driving them around to their baseball and basketball games and breaking up their fights when things got out of hand.

Corey stood out from his brothers for a couple of reasons. For one thing, he is at least 4 inches taller than Kyle and a couple inches taller than Justin. For another, Corey signed with the Dodgers out of high school for $2.35 million, turning down a scholarship offer to South Carolina. The other boys went to college. Kyle was a North Carolina Tar Heel and Justin went to North Carolina at Charlotte.

It wasn't an easy decision for Corey, according to Jeff, who works in information technology for a North Carolina bank.

"The deciding factor is you look at your kid and decide if he can handle it," Jeff said. "He's always been a mature, responsible kid and we felt he could handle it. Even when he was a little guy, if you gave him something to do, he did it. He'd come home and do his homework. You didn't have to tell him."

Corey Seager said he used to find it weird to finish a minor league game and call his buddies who were attending college classes. Gradually, he got used to it.

"I'd wonder where I would be now or what would be going on," Seager said. "It's not liked I wished I would have changed my decision or anything. It was always just, 'Man, I'd be in college right now.'"

"He doesn't show much emotion when he plays, similar to his brother. He just goes out and competes and tries to make the right baseball play." Dodgers teammate A.J. Ellis on Corey Seager

Professional baseball can be an unforgiving environment. Seager's rockiest stretch came in 2013, when he batted .160 in 100 at-bats after being promoted to advanced Class-A Rancho Cucamonga. Corey returned home that offseason and realized that, though he was just 19 years old, he was exhausted from playing every day. The fatigue had crept into his swing via bad habits he didn't know he had developed until weeks later. He said he learned to recognize them so he can fix them before things get out of hand.

The following season, he had a 1.044 OPS at Rancho before getting the call to Double-A Chattanooga.

"He comes home after the fall league two years in a row, tired and beat up," Jeff Seager said. "He takes about two days off and then he's back out there with his brothers ready to work out."

Corey Seager is, in a way, central to the Dodgers' plans in the coming seasons, as they try to become more of a homegrown team that doesn't have to field record-breaking payrolls every season. The team's starting shortstop, Jimmy Rollins, will be a free agent, as will second baseman Howie Kendrick. The Dodgers refuse to be pinned down about Corey's timeline, but it's pretty obvious that he is a big part of their infield plans for 2016, whether it's as a shortstop or third baseman. The smart money among talent evaluators seems to be that Seager will simply outgrow the shortstop position. It's only a matter of when, some say.

The Dodgers could move Justin Turner back to second base to accommodate Seager at third. They also have another promising young player in speedster Jose Peraza, who can play shortstop, second base and center field. President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman loves positional versatility and Seager has played both shortstop and third all season.

Wherever he plays, it will be a lot to throw at Seager, but like many elite prospects, he has had some time to deal with the high expectations. You don't sneak up on people when you're a first-round draft pick and, because Seager was the highest-ranked prospect left in the minor leagues before his call-up, Dodgers fans were clamoring for a glimpse of him for months. What they've seen so far is the body of a player five years older than Seager, but with a kid's smile. They've seen someone who looks like he belongs even if he admits he doesn't always feel like he does, as he tries to avoid stepping on any veterans' toes. "Hopefully, it'll get more comfortable soon," Seager said.

The pattern seems to be that, as Seager gets comfortable, he makes opposing pitchers anything but.

"The beautiful thing about him is somehow he just rises to the occasion every time, it doesn't matter the expectations," Schebler said. "I'm sure he knows they expect the world from him, but for some reason he just somehow slows the game down every time."