Upon arriving at spring training five months ago, Jean Segura met with manager Joe Girardi and was informed of the Phillies’ plan to alternate him and Scott Kingery at second and third base through the first few weeks of exhibition games before ultimately settling on one position for each infielder.
"No," Segura said. "Put me at third. I know I can play third."
Segura’s desire to tackle a new position, even though it might be for only one season, represented one of the Phillies’ more-pleasing developments from a short-circuited spring training. It’s also seemingly one less thing for Girardi to worry about when a three-week training camp fraught with concerns opens Friday at Citizens Bank Park and two fields at nearby FDR Park.
It wasn’t that the Phillies doubted Segura’s ability to play third base when they signed shortstop Didi Gregorius to a one-year, $14 million contract in December. But 891 of Segura’s 1,024 career starts are at shortstop, the other 133 at second base. And because no player, especially a longtime major leaguer, wants to look bad, it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that he would embrace a position he had not played rather than defaulting to one that he had.
“Here’s a guy that played in the middle of the diamond, and he comes in and goes, ‘I’m all in on this,’” Larry Bowa, the former Phillies shortstop, said recently. “That showed me a lot about the individual.”
Not that Segura had built enough good will with the Phillies to reject the idea. His first year with the club, after being acquired in a December 2018 trade with the Seattle Mariners, was marked by a decline in his offense (.280 average, .743 OPS were his lowest since 2015) and a lack of hustle on the popup that preceded Andrew McCutchen’s season-ending knee injury last June.
Besides, Segura is under contract for $14.25 million in both 2021 and 2022. If Gregorius is one-and-done with the Phillies, and with third-base prospect Alec Bohm on the cusp of the majors, it’s possible that the move to third base is a mere detour to returning to shortstop next year.
And so, at age 30, Segura seems to have accepted the challenge of a new position, which will enable the Phillies to put Kingery at his natural second base after two years as a super-utility man.
“I think [buying in] is a lot of the battle,” Girardi said during spring training. “Because he has the hands, he has the quickness, he has the range, he has the arm. He has all that. But it’s embracing it. If you make a wrong read, it’s not being embarrassed [but] saying, ‘OK, I learned from that.’ ”
Bowa, a Phillies senior adviser, joined infield coach Juan Castro in overseeing Segura’s crash course. He came away impressed by Segura’s swift adjustment to having less time to react to balls that are hit to third base as opposed to shortstop.
One of Segura's secrets, according to Bowa: Play deeper, a tip that he picked up by watching video of Oakland's Matt Chapman, the two-time defending Gold Glove-winner at third base in the American League.
Segura said in spring training that he isn’t concerned about having the arm strength to play third base. As a result, he felt comfortable playing deeper on the dirt against most hitters and giving himself more time to field a truer hop and still make a timely throw to first.
“Shortstop, you make your own hop, you read your own hop. At third base, it’s all instincts‚” Bowa said. “The ball gets down to you quick. Your first step is important, but other than that, it’s positioning. I thought that was going to be an adjustment that would take some time, but he fell right into place. Believe me, it was nice to watch.”
The bigger challenge for Segura will be deciding when to pursue balls that are hit to his left. As a natural shortstop, his instinct is to range for everything. He also showed up to spring training 14 pounds lighter than when the 2019 season ended, a physical transformation that might permit him to reach more balls.
But in his first game at third base on Feb. 23, Segura dove for a ball in the hole that deflected off his glove and into left field for an RBI single. In the future, he likely will learn to yield to Gregorius, who would have had an easier play, Bowa said.
“When he played the middle, he’d go after everything because the ball’s by the corner guys,” Bowa said. “The first couple spring training games, he had a problem going too far to his left. He was trying to get to balls that Didi was literally in front of. But he was already making the adjustment [by the end of spring training]. I was looking forward to him playing there.”
At least the Phillies know that Segura wasn’t too proud to try.