Andrew Friedman, Dave Roberts, and the rest of the Dodgers organization are stocking up on deodorant for the All-Star break. The Southern California summer isn’t the only thing making Los Angeles’ management sweat, though. Budding superstar Corey Seager is participating in tonight’s Home Run Derby festivities, and if recent history is any indication, Friedman and Roberts might want to buy a few extra undershirts as well. Only a year ago the Dodgers entered the All-Star break with another star rookie in the Derby. In the first half of the 2015 season CF Joc Pederson posted a line of .267/.393/.606, head-to-head with Cubs 3B Kris Bryant in a two-man race for NL Rookie of the Year. Earning an “invitation” to the midseason mash-fest, Pederson continued to show off his abilities with the bat, defeating superstars Manny Machado and Albert Pujols in the first two rounds of the newly-formatted Derby before falling to Reds 3B Todd Frazier in front of the Cincinnati faithful in the finale. The event would mark the high point of Pederson’s season, however, as the rookie outfielder hit only .177 with a .319 on-base percentage through the end of the year. Losing his everyday starting spot in August, Pederson finished sixth in Rookie of the Year voting and played sparingly in the Dodgers’ playoff series against the Mets.
Fast-forward a year to the 2016 All-Star break and the emergence of Corey Seager. After a brief September call-up last season, the shortstop’s 2016 rookie campaign has been nothing short of magical. As the Dodgers’ first-round pick in 2012 and the top prospect in baseball entering this season, expectations for the 22-year-old have not been small. Yet, like his team-leading 17 home runs, Seager has crushed them out of the park. Not even the pitcher-friendly confines of Chavez Ravine have slowed the rookie, who also leads the Dodgers in hits, runs, batting average, OPS, and WAR. If he continues to do so through 2016, the shortstop will be the first rookie to lead the team in all major offensive categories since Jackie Robinson in 1947. The statistics underscore Seager’s importance to this Dodgers team, which currently trails the San Francisco Giants by 6.5 games in the NL West. That the Dodgers are even this close to the MLB-leading Giants is a small miracle given the recent back injury to team ace Clayton Kershaw and an offense that has been anemic through the first half of the season. As of late, however, the Dodgers’ bats have been heating up, brought back to life by an electrifying moment in early June that Seager himself delivered. On June 3 the rookie homered three times in a 4-2 victory over ace Julio Teheran and the Atlanta Braves. He promptly followed up the performance with a 19-game hitting streak, the longest in the National League this season. Seager’s consistency has been the life raft that has allowed the Dodgers to survive offensive struggles from its other bats, most notably Adrian Gonzalez and Justin Turner. LA will need it to continue if the Boys in Blue hope to weather Kershaw’s ailing back and close the gap on a red-hot Giants squad.
Although the “Home Run Derby Curse” has been statistically debunked by our friends at FanGraphs, recent history has not been kind to the Dodgers. With LA’s postseason aspirations potentially hanging in the mix, Seager must be concerned with avoiding the post-Derby fallout that beset roommate Joc Pederson last season. While the rookie doesn’t believe the event will alter his swing mechanics, Andrew Friedman and Dave Roberts would imaginably prefer their rising star sit this one out to maintain his consistency into the second half of the season. Seager and Pederson are admittedly two very different players. With all due respect to Pederson, Seager’s talent and composure are unparalleled. Dodger fans are hoping their young phenom’s maturity and approach can help him put on a respectable showing in the Derby without skipping a beat offensively when the season continues on Thursday.