Cameron Seitzer began 2013 with a challenge. He was coming off a solid season at Low-A Bowling Green in his first full season as a professional, but the Rays elected to skip him over High-A and send him straight to Double-A Montgomery. Why did the Rays make that choice? We want to say that it was because they believed Seitzer could handle it, but it easily could have been the opposite. Seitzer was far from a top prospect and the Rays had a hole at first base at Double-A, so they decided to put Seitzer in a tough position rather than risk another prospect’s development. Essentially, the Rays were setting Seitzer up to fail–but apparently Seitzer did not get the memo. Seitzer delivered a strong season for the Biscuits, hitting to a .268/.380/.360 line with 25 doubles, 6 homers, 61 RBI, and most impressively, a 98-81 strikeout to walk ratio in 579 plate appearances. Seitzer did all that despite being a year below the league average age, and it is hard to not be impressed by how he performed. By 2013 was just one great season. What happens to Seitzer from here?
Seitzer played extremely well, but one look at the statistics tells you exactly what his problem is: he is a first baseman who does not hit for much power. The Rays have shown the past several years that they are fine with having first basemen who will not deliver standout home run totals, but Seitzer is even a notch below. Seitzer averaged 96.5 plate appearances per hour in 2013. The last regular big league first baseman who had more plate appearances per homer was Jose Offerman in 1996, and there have been just two such players since 1984. That is a tough hole for Seitzer to dig himself out of–but that certainly does not mean that Seitzer is without his strengths at the plate. He features excellent plate discipline and pitch recognition to go with a strong line approach from gap to gap. He hits both lefties and righties well as a left-handed batter, in fact hitting lefties better thus far in his career. Seitzer ties his game together with strong defense, and at the end of the day, he does a lot of things that could help a major league team. But unless he finds a way to hit for more power, Seitzer will be questioned everywhere he goes.
The good news for Seitzer is that time is on his side. He just turned 24 in January, and it is not too lack for him to harness more of the strength evident in his 6’5″, 220 frame. Ben Zobrist fit a better defensive profile, but he is an example of a player who hit for little power in the minor leagues before becoming a more significant threat in the major leagues. And like Seitzer, a big strength of Zobrist’s game is his plate discipline. Zobrist was able to use his patience to draw walks and get ahead in counts, but it was not until he arrived in the major leagues that he learned to take advantage of his hitter’s counts to elongate his swing and aim for more power. Seitzer will hope to make the same adjustment, and if he could become a player that could manage even 10 to 12 homers a year, that would help his profile immensely.
Seitzer may start 2013 back at Montgomery, but he should be at Triple-A Durham before long and knocking on the door to the major leagues. With James Loney signed for the next three years, the Rays don’t need Seitzer to be a starting first baseman anytime soon. They will give him all the time he needs to see if he can tap into his power more consistently and become a potential regular at first base or designated hitter. Even if that does not happen as hoped, however, the Rays will teach Seitzer left field and prepare him for a possible spot on their team as a reserve. Cameron Seitzer has the ability to work his way into major league time the next few years. Whether he can add to his power output will determine just how big his role on the Rays will be.