Squeeze play Although he's Orioles' best defensive first baseman, David Segui now has to fight for berth on roster

Ken Rosenthal

March 11, 1992|By Ken Rosenthal

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Think Randy Milligan is in a bad spot? How about David Segui?

Two years ago, Segui started for the same championship club in Rochester as Leo Gomez and Chris Hoiles. Now Gomez is the Orioles' third baseman, and Hoiles is the No. 1 catcher. Segui, meanwhile, is third on the depth chart at first base.

"If the bus wrecks," he joked, "I've got a pretty good chance to play."

Actually, he might be pressed to even make the club. Segui, 25, is so lost in the first base-DH shuffle, he's considered an outfielder now. Barring a trade, it appears he must beat out one of three players -- Dwight Evans, Chito Martinez or Brady Anderson -- to win a spot.

How did this happen to the club's best defensive first baseman and only switch-hitter besides Juan Bell? Welcome to yet another installment of that never-ending saga, "Why Randy Milligan must go."

The Orioles traded Craig Worthington to clear a spot for Gomez. They traded Mickey Tettleton and Bob Melvin to clear a spot for Hoiles. But they added Glenn Davis on top of Milligan to crowd the picture for Segui.

Not even Segui can argue the logic behind the Davis trade, but more than a year later the Orioles are still struggling to make all the pieces fit. Milligan deserves to play. Segui needs to play. Right now, they're both getting squeezed.

Manager John Oates envisions Segui in the same role as last season -- playing leftfield against lefthanders and serving as a late-inning replacement at first base. Under that scenario, Segui probably would get fewer than 200 at-bats. Last year, with Davis out four months, he had only 212.

Segui appears capable of adapting to such circumstances -- he hit a bases-loaded triple Monday after replacing Davis in an exhibition -- but naturally, he wants to play every day.

He was every bit the equal of Gomez and Hoiles on the Rochester club that won the International League title in 1990. Now, for reasons beyond his control, he's failing to keep pace.

"I'm happy for them -- they deserve to start," Segui said. "But when you come up through the minors with them, do the things they've done and then see them starting, it's hard. I know somewhere down the road I'll be starting somewhere. I've got to be patient, I guess."

Like everyone else, Segui figured Milligan would be traded this winter. That still could happen -- "the spring's not over yet," Segui said hopefully -- but the chances aren't good. For now, Segui should just forget about additional at-bats as Davis' backup and as a DH.

Still, he remains an intriguing player. He has batted .301 in four professional seasons, not bad for an 18th-round draft choice. Last year he hit .278 with two home runs and 22 RBIs for the Orioles, not bad for someone in a limited role.

Milligan, of course, is more proven, and thus more attractive on the trade market. Segui, in fact, lacks the tools scouts covet most, speed and power. The latter is considered essential for a first baseman.

But Segui now plays outfield, too. Last season he started more games there (29) than at first base (19), making the transition Milligan could not. "He doesn't have the speed of a lot of outfielders, but his arm is accurate," Oates said. "He has good instincts. He's able to catch the ball."

Segui said, "I'm a baby in the outfield. Every time I go out there, I learn something different. I don't feel I'm a liability. But I don't feel I'll be in the running for any Gold Gloves either. As long as you keep improving, that's all anyone can ask."

So, what happens next? Segui has spent time at Triple-A the past two seasons, but it's clear he belongs in the majors. The problem is, he has minor-league options left. If the Orioles get in a roster crunch, they can always return him to Rochester.

That, of course, would be a gross injustice, but the way things stand, something has to give. Segui might be the most mature of the Orioles' young players, and with the National League expanding next season, he's confident his time will come. It just might not be in Baltimore, that's all.

As with Milligan, the Orioles are fortunate -- Segui isn't one to complain. "He's a pleasure for a manager," Oates said. "So many guys now, if they don't play every day, they want to know why. He has the desire to play. He lets me know that. But he doesn't create any problems. It's between me and him."

Two years ago, he hit .336 at Rochester and averaged an RBI every six at-bats. Baseball America named him the second best prospect in the International League, ahead of Gomez, ahead of Hoiles. Davis was still in Houston then. His future seemed bright.

He isn't a dominant player who forces a club to create a spot. He's simply a useful player whose value is measured in subtle ways.

In other words, you don't trade Randy Milligan for David Segui's benefit. But surely, you keep it in mind.

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