Seaver King on How to Win Friends and Influence Baseball Games

Scott Kinser-USA TODAY Sports

When I was in Phoenix for the Draft Combine, I kept running into Seaver King’s friends.

“That’s my homie,” said JJ Wetherholt, the West Virginia infielder and presumptive top-five pick. He and King played together on Team USA last summer, and Wetherholt said King was the person he’d been looking forward to seeing most at the Combine. “He’s a great kid. He’ll be funny. Good dude.”

Michael Massey, the Wake Forest right-hander and sometime pitch design experimentalist, lived with King last season and gave him a positive reference as a roommate.

“He’s fun. He’s a high-energy guy,” Massey said. “Always wants to keep the vibes up, keep everyone having fun.”

King says he and Wetherholt met while working out at the same gym on the Cape. “I don’t know why, I thought I’d hate the kid,” he said. “And then we showed up to Team USA and we’re best friends.”

King said that at Wake Forest, it was unofficial team policy that the players shouldn’t only see each other at the field.

“We had a baseball house with an open-door policy, and after a game, there were 10 or 12 guys there every night,” King said. “[We were] always competing, whether it was Password or Mafia or video games, whatever.”

Hearing King and his teammates talk about life in college ball — long hours together on the road, at the park, and at home — I got to wondering if these guys ever get tired of each other. College baseball teams spend more time together than most families, and in my experience ballplayers’ personalities reflect those you’ll find in any group of young men: Some are outgoing, others shy. Some are intimidatingly smart, others dumber than a bag of hammers. Some are kind, but others are real jerks.

It’s great that everyone seems to get along with King so well, but what happens if you’re riding the bus every weekend with people you can’t stand?

“That’s the usual question,” he said. “At Wake, you get weeded out pretty quick. We have a way we go about it, and if you’re not bought into it, you feel left out. You feel unwelcome, and you feel like you don’t belong. You either change for the better, or you kind of get eaten alive. So you just have to find the right people and be okay with not being everybody’s cup of tea.”

Of course, King wasn’t just at the Combine to be a good hang; he’s expected to be a mid-first-round pick in next week’s draft.

Another one of King’s Team USA teammates, East Carolina pitcher Trey Yesavage, had just drawn rave reviews for the last start of his college career, in which he held King hitless in three at-bats. (It was also, incidentally, the last college game for both King and Massey as well.) Yesavage chuckled when I asked him how he did it.

“I couldn’t tell you what I threw him, can’t tell you how I sequenced him,” Yesavage said. “But whenever I go up there and he’s in the box, it’s like, ‘This is a real good hitter, I gotta make sure I execute the pitches to the best of my ability.’ ”

King hit .308/.377/.577 in with 16 home runs and 11 stolen bases last year, his only season of Division I baseball. See, he’d played the previous two seasons at Wingate University in North Carolina, a Division II school, before transferring to Wake Forest.

It’s an unusual path. I interviewed Wetherholt knowing King was on my schedule for the following day, so I asked the WVU standout what I should know about his buddy. “I would highlight a lot about him going D-II out of high school and then making the jump,” Wetherholt said. “Because that’s a testament to who he is personally. You gotta have a strong belief system to believe, ‘Hey man, I’m going D-II out of high school, but I’m not giving up on my dreams. I’m really trying to make it.’ And bro went to Wake and fit right in.”

King’s circuitous route to this point raises an obvious question. It’s very common for talented kids from underscouted regions to get overlooked coming out of high school, shine at a junior college or lower-division school, and play their way onto MLB teams’ big boards.

But King isn’t from some remote backwater in the Canadian tundra. He was born and raised in Athens, Georgia. Not only is there an SEC school in his hometown — a school whose star slugger, Charlie Condon, might go no. 1 overall in this draft — but the northern half of Georgia might be the most heavily scouted piece of real estate on the planet. How did King get missed?

“I was always super undersized in high school,” said King, who even now is an athletic but skinny 6-foot. “I didn’t really grow until my senior year, so at the time Wingate was my only offer. I had a really good senior year. I hit .505, led the state in RBIs — I had a good year my senior year — but still, nobody came trying to pry me away or anything like that.”

Division II might’ve been a small pond, but King turned into an extremely big fish. His sophomore season, he hit .411/.457/.699 and earned invitations to the Cape Cod League and Team USA — the latter being highly unusual for a player outside Division I. He said it was tough at first to fit in with teammates who’d come from power conference schools, but his play quickly spoke for itself. Once he transferred to Wake Forest, it soon became clear that the balance between student and athlete had shifted.

“It’s a lot more structured. Everything’s in the palm of your hand. You’ve got a lot of people checking on you, there’s people providing stuff for you each and every day,” King said of the transition to Division I. “Like at Wingate, I made my own schedule. We were told we couldn’t schedule classes past a certain date and that was kind of it — you’re on your own after that. Going to [Wake Forest], we had an academic advisor there every day trying to set it up, all those things. So it was just different.”

Wake Forest was the no. 1 overall seed in the 2023 NCAA tournament, and despite suffering heavy losses to the draft (most notably top-10 pick Rhett Lowder), the hope was that King and fellow transfer Chase Burns would do for the Demon Deacons what Tommy White and Paul Skenes had done for LSU the year before.

It didn’t quite happen. Wake started ACC play slow and ended up going 15-15 in-conference and 38-22 overall. Preseason Friday night starter Josh Hartle struggled, while Massey and first baseman Nick Kurtz were limited by injuries. King was one of just three Wake Forest position players to start all 60 games.

I put it to King that surely he would rather not have been in Phoenix for the Combine at all. The goal at the start of the season was for Wake to make it back to the College World Series, and that dream burned out against Yesavage and East Carolina in the regional round.

“I think it just didn’t line up for us. It wasn’t meant to be,” he said. “To be honest, I think we did everything we could to get to the postseason, to be healthy and play our best baseball, and it just ended up not happening. So we can’t really look back at it and ask what could have been.”

So once again, King is changing teams and going up a level this summer.

King’s Division II background makes him unique among this year’s first-round prospects, even in this transfer-happy college environment. But the question of where he’s going to play has never been settled. King split time among four different defensive positions at Wake: second, third, shortstop, and center field.

King’s athleticism, and ability to play all over the diamond, led Wake Forest hitting coach Bill Cilento to compare him to Mookie Betts in an interview with The Athletic two months ago. The comp stuck, as King can play anywhere up the middle, runs well, and hits for power. But Betts is an inner-circle Hall of Famer, one of the best players of the 21st century, and King is a 21-year-old kid 13 months out of Division II ball. That’s a lot to live up to.

“I think when you’re asked a question and you pick somebody out, usually you’re not going to pick a guy who starts every other day. You’re going to choose an All-Star to compare your star to,” King said. “I don’t think about it too much. I think we have a similar kind of body type, defensive versatility, and kind of the contact/power/speed combination, but at the end of the day I’m a different player myself. Obviously I want to model my game after him, but he does things well that I don’t.”

My suspicion is that the Betts comp has a lot to do with the fact that King played 10 or more games at three different positions last season, including shortstop and center field. That defensive versatility is more the result of circumstance than it is a part of King’s identity.

I know I said earlier that you shouldn’t generalize about baseball players’ personalities, but there is one exception to that rule: Every amateur infielder who can run and throw even a little is convinced that he can play shortstop in the pros. Every single one.

So when I asked King about his natural defensive position, he said, “I think I’m a shortstop at heart.” Quelle surprise.

King arrived in Winston-Salem last fall having been told explicitly that he wasn’t going to play shortstop.

“And I was, like, ‘You know what? I’ve proved people wrong before. I’m just gonna go take [incumbent starter] Marek [Houston]’s spot,’” King said. “And I get to campus and Marek’s gonna be a first rounder next year. I’d rather have him playing shortstop on my team than another team, and me have to move off and help our team win.”

King ended up spelling Houston at short several times over the course of 2024, but he split most of his season between third base and center field. He makes more sense at the latter position because of his plus speed, but whatever team drafts him will probably give him a chance to stick on the dirt.

And he’s under no illusions about the fact that, even though he’s come so far already, he’s still a long way from being ready for the majors. In fact, he’s looking forward to having the full, year-round attention of a professional coaching staff.

“Hitting .300 in the ACC is no joke, but I walked, what 20 times? And I can improve on that,” he said. “I can steal more bags. I can become a better defender. There’s just a lot of room for me to grow as a player.”

But it’s going to mean yet another adjustment in lifestyle.

“College baseball is its own animal, and I don’t expect it to be the same,” King said. “I expect that to be the last time I get to see the same 40 guys for a whole year every day. It’s going to be a revolving door. I think you have to have a support system outside of your organization.”

King cites his Team USA teammates as part of that support system, and draft-related functions, like the Combine, have served as informal team reunions and group therapy sessions. But at the same time, this period of personal and professional upheaval is another opportunity to meet new people.

“Baseball has kind of a unique language,” King said. “I could walk down to the field and meet somebody new and be best friends. It’s just kind of weird that baseball is able to do that.”





Michael is a writer at FanGraphs. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Ringer and D1Baseball, and his work has appeared at Grantland, Baseball Prospectus, The Atlantic, ESPN.com, and various ill-remembered Phillies blogs. Follow him on Twitter, if you must, @MichaelBaumann.

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Jimmember
14 days ago

So, Michael, why is his first name Seaver?