SAN ANTONIO — In three years at Appalachian State, Chandler Seagle posted a combined slash line of .168/.258/.214.
“I had some talks with scouts, we had a draft day, and I did get some letters,” Seagle told us last year about his expectations going into the draft. “I did get a little bit of information, but because my numbers weren’t great that year, I didn’t have a lot of confidence.
“I knew my defense was there, and I could compete with anyone behind the plate – but I had a lot of work to do offensively.”
So, when the Padres drafted the North Carolina native in the 30th round in 2017 despite his offensive woes, the reason was clear: Chandler’s value as one of the best defensive catchers in college was worth the pick.
Seagle spent most of the 2017 and 2018 seasons in Tri-City, getting late-season call-ups to Low-A Fort Wayne both years. Carrying a low-.500s career OPS, he didn’t make a roster to open the 2019 campaign. Without today’s MLB-imposed limit of 180 minor league players per organization and with the Padres fielding two AZL clubs, he stayed back in extended spring training to work with catchers five years younger than him and support young pitchers. When the complex league got underway, the then-23-year-old hit .223/.321/.351 and returned to Low-A.
Following the pandemic year, Seagle opened 2021, making a big jump to Double-A San Antonio, despite a .345 OPS in 78 plate appearances in full-season ball. He went 1-for-26 in the first month of the season but continued to perform defensively as the backup catcher and helped his pitching staff improve. He bounced back with the best offensive month of his career in June and ultimately finished the year in a time-share behind the plate.
When Jonny Homza’s offseason injury left the Missions’ starting job open this year, Seagle earned the role the same way he always has.
“Pitchers love throwing to him,” said Mark Conner, Padres minor league field coordinator, in our season preview. “He will get a lot of opportunities.
“Chandler is an outstanding defender and has shown a well-above ability to block, receive and throw. … He has great self-evaluation skills and a great work ethic.”
That has played out in Seagle’s return to San Antonio this year as he’s continued to work with the San Antonio coaches while getting more consistent playing time.
After hitting .205 in April, Seagle raised his average to .264 in May. He thinks there is still more to come.
“I think this year it is getting more consistent because of the games,” said Seagle before a recent game. “Last year, I was getting in about two games a week. This year, it’s four.
“I’m getting consistent at-bats and working with [hitting coach Raul] Padron, who has always been a big help to me. We are doing some new things with my mechanics, mainly taking out excess movements and simplifying things.
“I think that has given me more confidence at the plate because I feel it’s harder to beat me this season.”
His walk rate has risen from 3.9% last season to 10% and already has new career highs in most counting stats at the plate.
“I just want to see him continue to be competitive at the plate and maintain his strengths defensively,” said his manager Phillip Wellman. “If he can continue to be competitive at the plate, he puts himself in a real position to be a backup in the big leagues.
“Do I think he will ever be a .300 hitter in the big leagues? Probably not, but God blessed him in other ways that none of us have with his arm, rapport with the pitchers, and ability to call a game.”
“Last year, I got down 1-2, and I am pretty much auto-swinging to protect the plate,” said Seagle. “I ended up fishing for curve balls. I’m still trying to stick with my approach and work on laying off balls that aren’t strikes.
“It is little things like that that build confidence.”
Knowing that he will be in the lineup most days has helped him stay more relaxed at the plate and avoid trying to hit the five-run home run at every plate appearance.
“That has helped me,” said Seagle, becoming the everyday catcher for the first time in his professional career. “I know that if I didn’t get a hit that day, I might not play until next week, so you press a little more.
“This year, if you hit a few balls hard, you know you are on the right path and will be back in there the next night. You are always building on things with consistent at-bats.”
Defensively, Seagle continues to shine, both in the measurables and in his pitching staff management.
Wellman pointed out one way Seagle’s presence behind the plate comes through for his pitchers.
“He told Lake Bachar the other night, ‘you can live with a solo home run as long as you are attacking the zone,’” said Wellman. That is a great thing for a pitcher to hear; a positive way to constructively criticize someone while pumping them up.”
Catching games professionally is difficult enough; adding the heat element of Central Texas makes it even more of a physical challenge.
“Late in the games, the legs are a little more beat,” laughed Seagle, who has caught knuckleballer Matt Waldron this year and a variety of pitchers who can throw nasty sliders in the dirt.
“But I don’t want anyone getting the extra base because I couldn’t keep the ball in front of me, so that’s important and not going to happen. None of my pitchers will wear that run because of me.”