– When Giants minor-league hitting coordinator Steve Decker watches catching prospect Andrew Susac, he sees a similarity to Buster Posey that goes beyond their sharing a position and a comparable build.
Specifically, Decker said, when Susac is early in his hitting motion and getting ready to come forward in his swing, the 23-year-old Jesuit High School graduate “has a lot of the same set positions Buster does. It’s just not as consistent being in the same spot.”
In other words, Decker explained, Posey uses a very deliberate movement of his hands to get the barrel of his bat to a consistent spot before bringing it forward. Susac last season would twirl his bat vigorously above his right shoulder before going into his swing. The result, Decker said, was Susac would sometimes start the barrel from different spots – a small variation that could mean the difference between a line drive and a pop-up.
So when Susac arrived at the 2013 Arizona Fall League following his second full season in the Giants’ organization, Decker suggested an adjustment – an earlier and slower-loading movement to get Susac’s hands regularly to the same spot. Susac said the timing, partway into a 17-game AFL stint and right before the offseason, surprised him a bit.
“But you know what? Instantly I picked it up, and it was awesome,” Susac said. “I was seeing the ball deep, I was getting (my front foot) down on time; my hands were there on time. And I was finding a lot more barrel with this new swing.”
In 50 Fall League at-bats, Susac collected 18 hits for a .360 average, hit two home runs and also drew 16 walks to 11 strikeouts. He has carried the adjustment over into his third spring training, hoping to continue the trajectory he has taken since being drafted in the second round by the Giants in 2011.
After spending 2012 at High-A San Jose, Susac played 84 games last year for Double-A Richmond, catching regularly before a shoulder impingement ended his season early. He batted .256 at Richmond with 12 homers and 46 RBIs and cut his errors from 14 in 2012 to four behind the plate in 2013. He also threw out 40 percent of attempted base stealers, up from 32 percent the year before.
Giants assistant general manager Bobby Evans said Wednesday he would “like to see (Susac) start the year in Triple A (Fresno), but I think that still has to play out.”
“The opportunity is in front of him, and we look at him as really one of our top position player prospects,” Evans said. “I think it just comes down to experience right now for him, and continuing to develop his game. We like what we see and believe in his future.”
That there may be a few more eyes on him this spring, Susac said, has him feeling “like this year’s a little more important, to let the coaching staff get a good look at me and see what I’ve got to put out there.” Susac entered his fourth Cactus League game Wednesday in the sixth inning and was 0 for 1, making him 0 for 6 this spring.
Along with the swing change, Susac said defensively he’s working on staying square behind the plate to improve his lateral movement. His tone is more business-like. No longer is he a new face in camp, soaking up the experience. He’s operating under the knowledge his performance will be noted.
His season in Double A, he said, was eye-opening. The Eastern League presented tough pitching and playing conditions unfamiliar to a California kid. For one early-season game in Trenton, N.J., he said, temperatures hovered around 30 degrees (“I’ve never been that cold in my life playing baseball.”) One midsummer day in Richmond brought a downpour 30 minutes before a game was scheduled to start.
“The dugout was probably up to my knees with water; it’s just coming down in golf-ball sizes,” Susac said. “Sure enough, about 10 minutes later, I go out there and it’s completely dry, humid, hot and we’re playing. That was my first experience with East Coast rain.”
Overall, Susac believes he “made a lot of strides” in his second pro season. He spent the offseason mostly in the Sacramento area, working out at a downtown gym, and said he came into spring training feeling more prepared than past seasons because of his Fall League stint – though he isn’t sure what that will translate into this year.
“The goal is to end up at the big show, man. That’s the goal,” Susac said. “But my small-term goals are just to move up to Fresno and just get better, just keep going on the track I’ve been going on. Just keep making good strides.”