Stockton’s Banner Island Ballpark can be a magical place to watch a
ballgame. But when you’re there to see Max Stassi and Andrew
Susac—two of the finest catchers ever to come out of Sacramento—it can be
a special night, especially with a large contingent of family and friends in
Stassi is playing his second season for the Stockton Ports and Susac in his
first year with the San Jose Giants. Both are going through adjustments while grinding it out
and trying to flourish in minor league ball.
Last season, Stassi began the year with
the Ports full of expectations. Midseason he was shut down due to arm problems that date back to
his senior season Yuba City. He underwent surgery to shave down the acromion bone to relieve an impingement in
his right shoulder.
According to Max, when he returned to spring training, his footwork and throwing
motion were “just a little disconnected." Noting that it’s a game of adjustments,
Stassi “didn’t think I’d come right from surgery and start hosing (throwing out) guys from my
knees. It’s a process. But lately it’s been really good.” He adds that he’s going through a
stretch of successfully throwing out runners now that he can “really let it fly out
At the plate Stassi has been moderately consistent, hitting in the .270s.
Before the game against the Giants, he was working on the art of separating his hands and
feet in synch, and trying to refrain from pulling the ball. “Just trying to stay balanced and
use the whole field. Nothing major—all little adjustments,” Stassi says with that beaming
In 2009, the Oakland Athletics grabbed Stassi in the fourth round, but paid
him first-round money with a signing bonus of $1.5 million. At the time, he was proclaimed
the A’s catcher of the future, to follow the Kurt Suzuki era. But three years later Max is
still working in High-A and a new gun named Derek Norris has surged to the
front of the line (Norris was acquired from the Nationals in the Gio Gonzalez trade last year
and has made good on his recent promotion to the A’s from the River Cats).
Don’t talk to Susac about what’s in front of him: He’s got Buster
Posey starting and 22-year-old Hector Sanchez backing him up on the
senior Giants. But as Susac maintains, “I’m just trying to learn every day. Plus, there’s
always a need for good catchers.”
Max and Andrew took different routes to the pros. While Stassi signed out of
high school (and gave up a chance to play for UCLA), Susac opted to play for Oregon State in
After one year of college, Susac came off a great summer in the Cape Cod
League (2010) and then led Oregon State last spring in most power hitting categories until he
broke the hamate bone in his left hand, which lost him a crucial month in the college season.
He rushed back to action, admittedly a bit prematurely, and resumed his catching duties as
OSU returned to the Super Regionals, where they were swept by Vanderbilt.
The San Francisco Giants drafted Susac in the second round, and he signed
about twenty minutes before the deadline for $1.1 million bonus (just a fraction less than
the Giants’ first-round pick, Joe Panik, who also plays with Susac at San Jose).
Midway through his first professional season, Susac is admittedly struggling,
first at the plate and secondly in trying to adjust to a life of catching and playing nearly
every game in a very competitive High-A league. “Fighting the same routine every day is a
struggle sometimes,” he concedes, “but the main thing is keeping a level head, staying with
your mental approach every day.”
Before the game against the Ports, Susac was hitting .228. “I’m having some
struggles,” he admits. “Still haven’t caught on yet, as far as getting a rhythm and a groove at
the plate. But, I’m learning every day. I’m working on a couple things in my swing right
Andrew Susac follows this bloop single in the second inning to start a rally
for the San Jose Giants. It also started a 3x5 night at the plate for the
He had just come from a hitting practice session in Sacramento with old friend
Tony Padilla, an assistant coach at American River College, who works with
Susac in the offseason.
Asked if he’d ever experienced a similar tailspin at the plate Susac replies,
“Not quite this bad. You don’t have much time to think (in minor leagues). So, when you’re in
a slump, you’ve got to do the little things every day and really grind to figure out what’s
He also adds that the burden of hatching a daily pitching plan, working with
the staff, handling the running game are mentally taxing—all while trying to generate
offense. “There’s a lot of thinking going on. I told my dad the other day, ‘My brain’s just
fried at the end of the day.’ I’m really tired mentally.”
Andrew Susac talking with family
during pregame warmup.
As both catchers admitted, the rigors and routine of professional ball are mentally
taxing. Here a group of San Jose Giants are playing the age-old game of pepper--and
One of the pleasures of playing pro ball, especially the catcher position, is
the ability to razz each other behind the plate. “We’re always talking smack back there,”
Stassi says with a boyish giggle. “It’s a good relationship—he’s really one of my good
He believes Susac will figure things out. “The guy that he is, I’m sure he’ll
handle it well. He just needs time and reps.”
In Monday’s game at Banner Island, it appeared the extra hitting with Padilla
had paid off. Susac went 3x5, raising his average 10 points. Plus his home run in the top of
the ninth tied the game, but the Ports scored in their last at bat to win 7-6.
Although he went hitless on the night as the Ports designated hitter, Stassi
was happy Stockton claimed a come-from-behind victory as they’ve been the Cal League North
Division cellar dwellers all year. San Jose finished the first half of the season in second
For Susac, the outstanding offensive night meant an enjoyable ride home to
Roseville with his family.
One thing the Stassi and Susac families have in common: they’re hoping they’ll
be making the drive down Highway 80 to watch their boys play in the Bay Area’s major league
ballparks in the near future.