PCL—Hoping for Next Big Step
Susac is this close to
Raley Field, he can drive there in an hour-and-a-half. But he realizes what separates him from
playing in the major leagues is more than 90 miles of geography. A whole lot more.
in town with the Fresno Grizzlies for a four-game series against the River Cats; possibly the
earliest in the season the Grizzlies have ever visited Sacramento since the two teams began
battling in the Pacific Coast League in 2000.
Although Susac visited Raley Field many times
as a youth—and once played there for the Jesuit Marauders in a high school game—this marks his
first time he’s played at the professional level.
The daily grind of catching in professional ball can sometimes
affect the offensive output, says Susac, seen above against the Sacramento
father Nick Susac, who cultivated this baseball prodigy when he saw his son’s
destiny, is nervous. “Honestly, I’ve never been more nervous,” he admits laughing, because he
felt this way when he coached Andrew in Woodcreek Little League, saw him compete on Division I
title teams at Jesuit High School and then at Oregon State.
of the top prospects in the Giants organization, Andrew Susac is closely watched. San Francisco
selected him in the second round of the amateur draft in 2011, and because he signed at the
deadline (literally with less than an hour to go), he didn’t begin playing professionally until
he was assigned in 2012 to Single-A San Jose in the California League. There he hit .244 with 16
doubles, nine homers and 52 runs batted in for a .380 slugging percentage.
year, at Double-A Richmond in the Eastern League, he improved his average (.256) and home runs
(12), but dropped in RBI (46) because he played in less than 100 games.
Susac is realistic; he knows he has a lot to learn—and prove to the Giants front
Andrew Susac after pre-game warmup in the
now that (I’m) getting close, it’s business. You can’t take pitches off. Those guys up there
(Giants front office) see everything. They’re tracking you. When you’re playing on that stage
(MLB) there’s no room for error. So every game is important,” he says matter of fact. “Getting
better has taken more of a back seat to results at this level, I feel like.”
spring at the Giants camp (Susac’s third spring training as a non-roster invitee), he impressed,
hitting .263 in 19 at-bats, two doubles, one home run and five RBI. “I felt like ‘I belong here
and I can handle this.’ It was my first spring where I got a pretty good opportunity to showcase
my skills and did a pretty good job back there, I think.”
importantly, he looked the part of a junior Buster Posey, the Giants’ All-Star catcher and 2012
Most Valuable Player.
Watching Susac in the batter’s box, he
resembles Posey, with a slightly open stance, the bat wiggling quietly parallel to the ground,
and a short lift of his front leg before the ball arrives.
it’s behind the plate that Susac has always impressed. At Jesuit, he was a two-time All-Metro
player for Coach Joe Potulny. But in some respects, Susac was overshadowed by Max Stassi, the
Sacramento Bee’s two-time Player of the Year during the same period 2008-2009. Stassi,
playing at the Division III level for Yuba City High, made All-Metro all four years of high
2009 amateur draft, Stassi was selected by Oakland in the fourth round, but signed for
“first-round money” with a $1.5 million bonus. Susac, by contrast, was drafted by the Phillies
in the 16th Round, didn’t sign and accepted a scholarship to play at Oregon
March of his sophomore season, Susac broke the hamate bone in his left hand, had surgery to
repair the injury at UC Davis Med Center, and returned to action one month later. Later, he
admitted it was premature. A catcher’s hand endures a tremendous pounding, which affected
his batting. He played 38 games for the Beavers, hit .298, finished second on the team with 32
runs batted in, and had a .525 slugging percentage, despite the injury.
21, Susac was draft eligible, despite just playing two seasons at Oregon State. San Francisco
selected him with the 86th pick in the second round. He signed for a $1.1 million
bonus, just $16,000 less than the Giants’ first-round pick, Joe Panik, now a teammate at
Meantime, Stassi is embarking on his sixth
season in professional ball, and like Susac, he is playing his first season in the PCL (Oklahoma
last season, after homering in five consecutive Double-A games and being named Texas League
Player of the Month, Stassi got “the call” to join Houston, who needed a catcher. In his debut,
Stassi got two hits. One game later, he got hit in the face and the dream was short
two high school rivals bonded and have become friends, often being the first
to congratulate each other's successes via email or Twitter.
settles in to the Pacific Coast League, Susac focuses on the mental aspect of the game, and the
catching position is easily the most challenging defensively. “It’s the constant mental grind of
giving it 100-percent,” he reflects by the batting cage at Raley Field.
“Sometimes I’ll give away a free at-bat,” he
openly admits. “And you really need to focus for nine innings. I think that’s the biggest
thing—devoting 3.5 hours a day to your job and doin’ it to the best of your
credits his high school mentor with providing an advanced education. “Coach P(otulny) did a
great job of establishing what’s ahead in college and in pro ball. Baseball is a game of
failure, that can’t be said enough. (The) biggest thing people lack is the mental toughness part
of it. That’s what the great major leaguers have; they forget about the past and make strides at
getting better every day.”
notable local baseball authority thinks Susac has what it takes to get to the next level—and do
well there. Leon Lee, who played seven seasons in the St. Louis organization (ending at
Triple-A) should know.
17-year-old, Susac played on Lee’s collegiate summer team in Lodi. “Really impressed me with his
catching ability,” Lee says. “(He) Picked off a guy on second base. It was the fastest pick-off
I think I’ve ever seen in my life. That showed me right there he was going to be a top
Andrew Susac of the Fresno Grizzlies is a natural behind
according to many baseball experts.
developed into a “top prospect” because of his own personal desire to play professionally, but
also because his father enrolled him at Sacramento City College baseball camps, and arranged to
have former MLB catcher Matt Walbeck tutor him in the off-season.
the Susac brothers (Nick and John) arranged for Andrew to meet and hear from many of
Sacramento’s elite baseball people: Jerry Weinstein and Andy McKay (Sacramento City College);
Phil Swimley (UC Davis head coach); Potulny and Chris Fahey (Jesuit High); Jim Stassi (Max’s
dad, a former Giant farmhand and Yuba City High’s coach); Leon Lee (former minor leaguer),
Fernando Vina (former MLB player and long-time friend of John Susac) and several others who
imparted baseball wisdom of all varieties.
Nick Susac, “Sacramento’s so loaded with baseball people. The answers were all here.” And on
occasion when teen-aged Andrew didn’t heed his father’s advice—relayed from those notables
above—and the younger Susac failed at the plate, Nick would hear the clink of an aluminum bat in
the garage at midnight—a sign the kid was repentant and would not be denied his
~ ~ ~
Fast-forward a decade, and Susac is batting
fifth in the Grizzlies lineup. In his first game back at Raley Field, he comes up in the first
inning with a runner on second and Fresno already ahead 1-0. Susac pounds a high fastball that
ricochets off the Cache Creek billboard in left center field and drives in a run with a double.
The Susac family is ecstatic, as are many friends who have come out to see the Roseville native
in a Fresno uniform. That evening he goes 1-for-3 (with a hit-by-pitch), but the River Cats
most everyone in minor league baseball understands, it’s really not about the wins and losses,
but about the professional development of the organization’s prized players.
is fulfilling the potential the Giants expect of him. But there’s room for
Andrew Susac has learned so well, there’s always tomorrow. It promises to be a grind, but he’s
digging the journey.
leads to his dream.