A fortunate Jean Segura is having fun in Milwaukee

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Jean Segura leaps over a sliding runner to complete a double play.
Jean Segura is flying high with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Most baseball experts agree that someday, Jurickson Profar will be a major-league star. Unfortunately, that prediction has been on hold. Profar, 20, a gifted shortstop from the island of Curacao, is property of the Texas Rangers, and his road to “the show” is indefinitely blocked by a guy named Elvis Andrus. Biding his time in the minor leagues, Jurickson Profar must be mumbling to himself in Papiamento, and in envy of fellow Caribbean Jean Segura.

Less than a year ago, Jean Segura, who speaks Spanish, was in a similar situation with the Los Angeles Angels. The talented Dominican shortstop was patiently waiting his turn behind countryman Erick Aybar, the recipient of a new contract extension worth $35 million. Luckily, Segura would eventually be “liberated” with a career-changing opportunity.

Prior to the trading deadline last season, the Angels made a bold move in the hope of increasing their chances of winning the American League West. Club owner Artie Moreno gave his blessing to offer Segura and two lower-level prospects to the Milwaukee Brewers for the rental services of coveted pitcher Zack Greinke. We now know that the Angels would fizzle out of contention, free-agent Greinke would sign with the equally wealthy Los Angeles Dodgers and then go on the DL thanks to a bone-crushing tackle by an angry Carlos Quentin of the San Diego Padres. But the Brewers couldn’t care less about all that drama. In Segura, they had a grateful, highly rated shortstop who would be under team control for almost an eternity.

Scouts knew that Segura, like Profar, had quick feet, great hands and range, plus a strong arm. But his offensive prowess has been a huge bonus. Along with Venezuelan teammate Carlos Gomez, the hitting heroics of Segura have the Brew Crew holding their own in the National League Central after a poor start. In fact, Jean now hits in the two-hole and occasionally leads off in the lineup, which is quite a jump after batting eighth in the order at the beginning of April.

“He’s had at-bats where he’ll foul off some tough pitches, and then make solid contact,” comments Brewer skipper Ron Roenicke. “He reminds me of Maury Wills, except a lot stronger.

Well, I’m older than Roenicke. But to me, Segura plays the game a lot like Starlin Castro, the Chicago Cubs All-Star shortstop who resides in the same division. Both guys are 23-year-old Dominicans who have similar bodies, each standing at 5′-10″ and weighing about 195 pounds.  Each can drive the ball with power and run like a deer. As young, superior athletes, both kids can make web-gem plays on defense but occasionally boot balls a veteran player could field in his sleep. But here is where the comparison gets interesting.

Salary-wise, Segura makes around the major-league minimum, give or take a few dollars, and won’t even be eligible for arbitration until 2016. Castro recently signed a new deal and makes $5 million per season, plus performance incentives. Yes, it’s true that Castro is on the brink of becoming an elite player. So, let’s check out his numbers. In 2010, his first complete season in the major leagues, Castro had a slash line of .300/.347/.408, although his fielding percentage of .950 was mediocre at best. This season, Chicago’s franchise player has hit .273 with three home runs and one triple, but has stolen only two bases and has already committed five errors.

In contrast, Jean Segura has been much more impressive in his first full year with the big boys. Thus far, he is hitting .336 with four bombs, three triples, eight stolen bases and has only one miscue on defense. Sure, I know I’m sticking my neck out a bit to even imply that Segura rivals Castro. He certainly isn’t as durable. Only 30 games into the season, Segura has been scratched from Roenicke’s lineup due to a bruised knee, a left quad strain and a split fingernail on his throwing hand. Throughout his climb in the Angels farm system, Jean Segura was also prone to injury. That’s primarily because he plays with reckless abandon.

What stands out with Jean Segura, though, is how he is starting to figure things out. Last season after the trade, he made 10 errors in only 43 games with the Brewers. Obviously, he has improved in that department. Jean also won the Dominican Winter League batting title on the off-season, sending a clear message to opposing pitchers that he is no Mendoza-line, eighth place hitter. My point is, when matched up with other guys who play his position, Segura gives the Brewers more bang for their buck.

Hard-earned success has enabled Jean Segura to come out of his shell and smile a bit more these days. The English is improving, and he’s fortunate to play on a Milwaukee team that has a large Latino presence. But while the quiet confidence is there, Segura continues to work hard and takes nothing for granted.

“I knew I was going to be the starting shortstop this season, and that helped me relax and have fun,” Jean admits. “But I’m always trying to get better.”

Milwaukee’s celebrated left fielder, Ryan Braun, is definitely on the Segura bandwagon, even though the pair teamed up for some base-running comedy a couple of weeks ago.

“He has the chance to be a very special player,” says the always articulate Brewers slugger. “A difference maker.”

There’s no question that Jean Segura is living the dream. So are a lot of young Latino shortstops in the National League. Everth Cabrera of the San Diego Padres and Ruben Tejada, who plays for the New York Mets, are two Central American kids who come to mind.

As for Jurickson Profar, that dream is still fantasy. But as Jean Segura will confirm, it’s only a matter of time.

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