Less than a year ago, very few baseball fans had heard of Jean Segura. The first time he made national headlines was on July 27, 2012. That's the day the Angels farmhand was traded to Milwaukee in a Trade Deadline deal that landed Zack Greinke in Southern California. That trade was supposed to help the Halos return to the postseason and possibly the World Series. Instead, it may change the long-term fortunes of a franchise that's never won the Fall Classic.
A quarter of the way through the 2013 season, Segura is on the short list of best young players you need to watch whenever you get the chance. The word short is nothing new for the 23-year-old from the Dominican Republic. Short has been included in Segura's scouting reports since he was signed at 16 as an amateur free agent in 2007.
From Baseball America in 2009: Segura's range and defensive instincts are a bit short.
And from the same publication entering 2010: Segura is short with powerful legs.
Some of that is opinion, some was fact. Important to note is that Baseball America also forecasted Segura as a possible batting champion with plus-plus speed.
Yes and yes.
Here's where the Segura story gets interesting. At 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds, he looks like a prototypical NFL running back. If you were to pick a position on a baseball diamond for him, you'd probably go with catcher or second base -- the position he was projected to play at the big league level.
Turns out, Segura is starring at shortstop. That, along with his eye-popping stats and high energy level, has created a buzz felt way beyond Milwaukee. He plays with a hop in his step that makes you want to watch his every at-bat.
Former Major League infielder and current MLB Network analyst Billy Ripken said Segura is a "hybrid" when it comes to body type. Having played with dozens of shortstops in the Majors, Ripken points out that shortstops used to be little guys, slight in build.
"Mark Belanger, Ozzie Smith, Omar Viquel," Ripken said, "that's what we were used to."
When Bill's brother, Cal Ripken Jr., came along, that all changed. At 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, Cal had the arm and range to go along with durability and power. Guys like Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Troy Tulowitzki followed. As Billy Ripken accounts for Segura's success and body type, he notes, "There's no one way to do it," and adds, "Instincts are tough to judge on TV, but I've seen nothing to question his arm strength, and I can't question his effort."
Given all we've seen, it's not a surprise the Brewers recently approached Segura's agent about signing a long-term deal. That report was originally filed by MLB Network Insider Ken Rosenthal. The report indicated that it may take a while to finalize any contract, because Segura's MLB experience is limited to about a half-season.
You can certainly understand why Milwaukee wants to nail him down. This is an organization that's employeed 12 shortstops who have played at least 150 total games at that position since Hall of Famer Robin Yount moved to the outfield in 1985. That's the most in Major League Baseball in that time frame. Full disclousure: That nugget was dug up by MLB Network researcher Ken Gold. And as far as odd stats are concerned, it is gold, perfectly illustrating the constant changing of the guard at that position in Milwaukee.
And if it turns out Segura is not long for the shortstop position, the Brewers could move him back to second base. Incumbent Rickie Weeks, while under contract through 2014 (with a vesting option for '15), has underachieved. Manager Ron Roenicke pointed out that Segura "is a great player. This is a guy I don't want to ever take out of the lineup."
The raw numbers help support what the skipper sees. Seguras ranks in the top 10 in the National League in these major categories: average, on-base percentage, OPS, stolen bases, hits and slugging percentage.
To put his stats and tools in better perspective, consider this: In the history of the game, only four shortstops have recorded a 30-30 season -- Barry Larkin, Rodriguez, Jimmy Rollins and Hanley Ramirez. Segura has a shot to join that list.
If he joins the 30-30 club this season, Segura will join Mike Trout as the only player to gain entry in their rookie season.
That will go a long way in solidifying this young man as one of the great young players in the game.
Matt Yallof is the co-host of The Rundown on MLB Network from 2-4 p.m. ET. Follow him on twitter @mattyallofmlb.