TRENTON — For a moment last April, everything looked like in was coming together for the Thunder’s Rob Segedin.
The 24-year old third baseman had gotten off to a quick start at the plate, hitting .338/.390/.606 with three home runs and 17 RBIs in his first 18 games. With Alex Rodriguez sidelined by injury and Kevin Youkilis struggling for the Yankees, it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that he could have been given an opportunity to man the hot corner in the Bronx by the end of the season.
Instead, his year changed completely on a road trip to Akron, where the 2010 third-round pick out of Tulane and native of Old Tappan felt something off in his right hip. That discomfort turned out to be femoral acetabular impingement, or FAI — the same condition Rodriguez was struggling to recover from. Instead of pinstripes, Segedin was headed for season-ending surgery.
“It was frustrating, especially considering what was happening in New York,” he said at the Thunder’s media day Tuesday. “You look and that and think I might have had a chance, but things happen and you have to just go do your work, whatever job it is, to get back healthy.”
That work included two surgeries in New York — the same condition was also found in his left hip — performed by the Yankees’ orthopedist Dr. Bryan Kelly, and plenty of time rehabbing in Tampa. Because the condition had limited his range of motion in his hips, his rehab focused on strengthening some of the surrounding muscles that hadn’t had a chance to be properly trained.
“What the surgery opened up in my eyes was the soft tissue and mobility part of being an athlete and being able to stay on the field,” Segedin said. “Because I had such a lack of range of motion in my hips, a lot of my muscles that were strong weren’t strong in the full range of motion. That stuff is what I need to stay on top of — making sure I’m powerful in all different fielding positions, hitting, and stuff like that.”
That increased agility could pay off in a major way this year. Now 25, Segedin is expected to be a major contributor to a Thunder lineup that, on paper at least, doesn’t appear to feature much power. He’s already penciled into the third spot in the batting order behind two highly touted table-setters in center fielder Mason Williams and second baseman Rob Refsnyder and ahead of catcher Gary Sanchez, who is widely regarded as the best hitting prospect in the organization.
In other words, it’s a lineup in which a little pop would go a long way.
“As a third baseman, that’s kind of where you are projected — with your power numbers,” he said. “I’m hoping I can definitely help out the Thunder in that category.”
As difficult as the rehab process was, Segedin’s summer wasn’t all bad. He married his longtime girlfriend Robin, who is working on her degree in chiropractic medicine in Dayton Beach, Fla.
“I’ve been with my wife since I was a freshman in college,” he said. “She’s kind of grounded me throughout college, and kept me going. It gets you away from the whole ‘going out’ thing. You just come home, and to be with her is a good feeling to have. If you are doing good or bad, she’s there to go through the ups and down with you.”
Unlike the Thunder’s two flashiest prospects — Williams and catcher Gary Sanchez — Segedin also still plays a position of major need for the Yankees, whose current starting third baseman Kelly Johnson has spent the majority of his eight major league seasons as a utility infielder and hit just .235 last year. Eduardo Nunez, who played 14 games at third last year, was also designated for assignment Tuesday.
While that’s something he’s trying not to focus on, he is certainly aware of the situation. While not on the 40-man roster, he did appear in four spring training games with the big club, going 1-for-4.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s added (pressure), because no matter who is up there I’m trying to get (to the Yankees),” he said. “A-Rod is locked up for a couple of years, but it’s a job that I want and that’s what I am here for. You play in the minor leagues to get to the big leagues.”
Segedin has at least one major believer in the Thunder dugout — manager Tony Franklin.
“I think he’ll show you what he’s all about by the season’s end,” Franklin said.