Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Stockton Ports catcher Kurt Suzuki. It's appropriate to touch base with 2004 draft pick Suzuki as the 2005 draft approaches.
Suzuki impressed many during Spring Training and has quickly risen in the ranks of catchers in the A's system. He more than held his own against big league competition and is doing well in high A ball. Suzuki is third in batting average on the Ports, has a .396 OBP (second on the team behind Daric Barton's .415). He also has three triples and two stolen bases, proving that even catchers are allowed to have some speed now and then.
So, here it is, get to know the A's catcher of the future today.
Blez: How has your season gone thus far?
Kurt Suzuki: It's exciting. It's my first full professional season and I'm the California League which leaves me close to Fullerton, which is where I spend my offseason. I see my friends when I go back down south and sometimes people come up here and visit me. The experience is just awesome and playing every day knowing that one game isn't going to kill you and that you can come back the next day, it's also good.
Blez: You were talking about Fullerton which is obviously a great baseball program. Do you feel that helped you prepare to take the next step?
Suzuki: Oh definitely. When you go to Cal State Fullerton, you get the best (in terms of baseball). The coaching staff was great my whole three years there. They taught me all the basics, all the fundamentals and all the important things that will help you succeed on the professional level. They help you to play baseball the rest of your life and help make it your career. I think Fullerton helped me a whole lot.
Blez: You impressed many and opened eyes at spring training. Both with your bat and your arm. I think you were 4-4 in throwing out baserunners. You seemed very relaxed. Was that the approach you wanted going into your first big league camp?
Suzuki: I wasn't going to try to do too much. I did want to try and impress everybody. The thing is when I went out there I felt like I was comfortable and I was supposed to be there. It wasn't that different or anything new. I just went in there and played alongside guys like Mark Kotsay and Eric Chavez and Jason Kendall. It was pretty exciting and I tried to not make it harder than it really was. I just wanted to go out there to try and have fun. I just wanted to try and stay nice and relaxed and do what I needed to do.
Blez: Were you on weight lifting regimen this offseason and how did you prepare for the season?
Suzuki: After Vancouver, I took a couple of weeks off before heading out to instructional league. Once I hit the instructional league, I think it was about the middle of September, I started lifting then and I kept lifting 4-5 times a week in the offseason all the way leading up to big league camp. I've been trying to hit the weight room, especially for this season because I knew it would help me a lot. You play a lot of games and your body wears down quite a bit, so you have to make sure that you stay in that weightroom and keep your body toned and your muscles in shape.
Blez: You've been moved around the lineup a bit and hit everywhere from second to fifth. Do you have a preference as to where you'd like to hit?
Suzuki: I don't think there's a preference. I just think that some guys feel comfortable when they hit in certain spots in the lineup the whole season. It hasn't been the greatest season so far; we just hit .500 yesterday. We've been swinging the bats really well, pitching and playing good defense lately. I don't know if it matters to me where I hit in the lineup, I just go wherever the manager tells me to and however I can help the team.
Blez: But do you see a different series of pitches or take a different approach depending on where you hit in the lineup?
Suzuki: I'm not sure. I think I usually have the same approach no matter where I'm hitting in the lineup. Whether I'm hitting fourth or third, I just go up there looking for a pitch that I can hit to the gaps or drive pretty well. My approach really doesn't change.
Blez: How would you describe your approach?
Suzuki: Well, I try to look for a fastball, of course. I'm not a really big fan of looking offspeed because if they slip a fastball in there, I'm going to be upset because I love fastballs. When I let one go that I should hit, it's pretty frustrating so I just stay with my approach. If they throw me two curveballs for strikes, I tip my hat and then say you're going to have to throw something pretty nasty to strike me out with.
Blez: You grew up in Hawaii. What made you decide on Fullerton as your school? I'm assuming baseball had a ton to do with it.
Suzuki: Baseball did have a lot to do with it and my dream was to go to a Division 1 powerhouse and play in the College World Series and hopefully win a National Championship. That all came true. It wasn't a hard decision for me. I met the coaching staff and thought they were great guys. The team was great. It was like a family. You're so close with one another. Once I met the coaches and saw the facilities, I knew in my heart that I wanted to go there.
Blez: You mentioned the College World Series. During Spring Training did you happen to give Huston Street any guff about it?
Suzuki: No. We were messing around a bit talking about it. But Huston's a great guy and a great pitcher and I wish all the best for him up there with them. Hopefully sooner rather than later I can be up there and go catch him with the A's. He's a great guy and I look forward to being a part of a tandem with him and the A's.
Blez: Did it make things a lot easier having a college teammate like Jason Windsor here that you can catch regularly?
Suzuki: Yeah, it helped make me very comfortable. I knew what he had and what we were thinking in one another. I've been catching him for two years in a row, and it wasn't that hard catching him in college. Here, you just do the same stuff you did in college that made you successful. Just throw a lot of strikes and went right after hitters. He wasn't afraid.
Blez: Being a catcher, there are so many different aspects to the game. People don't often expect a catcher to be a great hitter. What's your favorite part of the game, offense or defense?
Suzuki: I guess it's a little bit of both. Sometimes when you're feeling really good at the plate, your offense is going to be good. But I really take pride in my defense. If I can throw out baserunners all game and go 1-5 or 0-4 and we win 4-1 like we did last night, I'll take those every day of the year. My main focus is to hold the other team to scoring no runs or one run and keeping us in the ballgame. Of course, you're going to get frustrated when you don't get your hits. I expect a lot of myself when I go up to the plate. But I take a lot of pride in my defense and I expect to be perfect there.
Blez: How do you like to call a game?
Suzuki: I love calling my game. The beginning of the season was a little rough. My first full professional season I really tried to learn the philosophy of the Oakland organization and (Ports pitching coach) Scott Emerson has been a real huge help. We had very different points of view early in the season. He's really been working with me and teaching me lots of stuff. It's starting to help now and I'm really understanding the philosophy.
Blez: Can you share that philosophy from the pitching/catching standpoint in terms of calling a game?
Suzuki: Mainly just making sure you throw strikes and keeping the hitters off balance. You just keep it all mixed up and the hitters are confused and don't know what's coming. The main thing is throwing strikes. If you throw strikes with every pitch, you're going to be successful the majority of the time.
Blez: Were you happy to be drafted by the Oakland A's who have a history of drafting someone and then showing them a quick road to the major leagues?
Suzuki: Oh definitely. That was my first thought after being drafted by Oakland. They aren't afraid to move young players up if they feel they can play. And so when I came here, I just tried to improve every day and continue to do what I do. If I do well, I know they aren't going to be afraid to bring me up there. They're not going to hold you back.
Blez: Do you have a timetable of when you'd like to get up there?
Suzuki: No, I don't really have a timetable, but I expect a lot of myself. It's not really in my control. I just go out there and play as hard as I can and try to perform well for the upper front office guys. If they decide that I deserve to be up there, they'll move me up there. If not, I'll just keep trying to get better.
Blez: Are you comfortable hitting with two strikes? I know that's what a lot of hitters say is an adjustment they have to make to make it to the bigs.
Suzuki: I'm not that afraid because they still have to throw you a strike. No strikes, one strike or two strikes, I'll still have the same approach. I just try and see the ball really well. I'm striking out more times this year than I'd like, but I've also been getting my walks in and getting on base and hitting the ball hard with two strikes. So if I go up there with two strikes, my feeling is that he's still got to work his butt off to get me out.
Blez: Let's go back to Spring Training really quickly. You said that you talked with Kotsay and Kendall and some of the others. Did any of the players really try and take you under their wing and really tell you what to expect in the future?
Suzuki: Kotsay did. He's an ex-Fullerton alumni. He talked to me a lot about stuff. He told me to make sure I got my work in, keep working hard and don't complain. I just followed his leadership. I just watched the way he went about his business and he's awesome with that kind of stuff. He works hard and he has fun at the same time. I see that and I just try and do that. I just to mimic the way he goes about his business. Also being with Jason Kendall, talking with him and learning what he was thinking. Those two guys are great guys and I never dreamed of being on the same field with those two guys. It was just an amazing experience.
Blez: You talked a little bit about the A's approach to calling a game. What about the A's approach to hitting? Have you already had a lot of instruction as to how the A's want to approach an at-bat?
Suzuki: I can't really say they want you to do this or they want you to do that. They just want you to have good at-bats. That's the way I look at it. They just want you to get on base and any way you can get on base, they'll take it. They want you to be productive at the plate, it's not just go get your walks. They don't tell you to go up there and try to walk. Their philosophy is to get your pitch to hit and if you don't get it, then take what the pitcher gives you. If that is a walk, then take the walk, but don't swing at bad pitches just because you want to hit. Be patient and see the ball. If you get a good pitch, then go ahead and hit it.
Blez: Is there any particular part of your game that you're working to improve right now?
Suzuki: My whole game. I'm still working on it. I'm still really young. There's a lot of things I can work on and I need to get better at. There's not really one thing I'm focusing on, I'm focusing on the whole picture and every aspect of the game.
Blez: Is your family still in Hawaii?
Blez: Do you talk to them a lot?
Suzuki: Yeah, I talk to them once every two or three nights in a row. But I keep in touch with them somehow pretty much every single day.
Blez: I don't think there are too many major leaguers coming out of Hawaii. Was that your goal?
Suzuki: Oh yeah. Baseball was always so fun for me to play. I love it and that was all that I could think about. I did study and did the whole school thing, but it's something special to me to be from Hawaii and be where I am. You'd think I'd be a surfer or something. I always watched baseball on TV and my goal was to be one of those guys on TV playing and having fun out there.
Blez: So, did Zito try and talk you into surfing at all?
Suzuki: (Laughing) No.
Blez: Who was your baseball hero growing up?
Suzuki: I used to watch Pudge and when you're young, you always want to be able to throw the ball hard. Pudge is known for his arm and his footwork. I watched him a lot on TV and I thought, "God, I want to be like him." Every time I turn on a baseball game I'm always watching to see who is catching and how he catches. And whatever fundamentals he uses, I try to mimic it. I watch a lot of games and try to copy, I guess. Because they are up there, they have to be doing something right.
Blez: Did you have a favorite team growing up?
Suzuki: The team I always watched the most was the Atlanta Braves because they were always on TBS, so I saw them a lot.
Blez: OK, I just have some personal questions now to help Athletics Nation get to know you. Favorite movie?
Suzuki: One of my favorite movies is Miracle. I like Miracle.
Blez: Are you a hockey fan?
Suzuki: No, not really a hockey fan, but it's just a really good movie. Just the whole story that went with it. They maybe weren't the best, but they just worked so hard. That's what I try to pride myself on is working hard.
Blez: Favorite TV show?
Suzuki: I like Saved By The Bell.
Blez: (Laughing) You're kidding?
Suzuki: I love that show.
Blez: Are you Zach or what?
Suzuki: (Laughing) No, no.
Blez: Actually, maybe I should say are you more Screech or Zach? (you can take your own "Which character from Saved By The Bell are you?" quiz here)
Suzuki: I don't know, probably more Screech (laughing).
Blez: Favorite band and then song?
Suzuki: I want to say some Hawaiian stuff.
Blez: You're free to say Hawaiian stuff. There are no rules here.
Suzuki: OK, the band is called Three Plus. It's a local Hawaii band. Great stuff.
Blez: Favorite book?
Suzuki: I don't really like reading much, so I never really read. I read Sports Illustrated and stuff like that.
Blez: Have you read Moneyball?
Suzuki: (Laughing) I haven't even read that.
Blez: Favorite food? Subway? (I interrupted Kurt when he was eating a sub from Subway, so I was kidding)
Suzuki: I like pasta.
Blez: Red or white?
Blez: Favorite female actress or model?
Suzuki: Kate Bosworth from Blue Crush.
Blez: Favorite video game?
Suzuki: I don't really play video games. But I'm old school. I like Super Nintendo. Baseball Simulator.
Blez: One last thing. Are you living on your own?
Suzuki: I'm rooming in an apartment with Brad Knox and Scot Drucker.
Blez: Is that sort of a frat house atmosphere?
Suzuki: Not really. We hang out and yeah, people come over sometimes, but I don't really like to go out. I'm a relaxed kind of guy. I like to relax and watch TV and just chill. I'm not a big going out kind of guy.
Blez: How's Stockton in general?
Suzuki: It's not as bad as people think. There are some nice areas and there are some places to avoid, but there are places like that all over the country. It's a really nice place.
Blez: Well, thanks so much for your time, Kurt. Athletics Nation really appreciates it.
Suzuki: Not a problem. It's been fun.
There you have it. Kurt spent plenty of time with me, and also posed for a couple of photos when I realized the shadows were bad facing the field.
By the way, Toby Hyde, the Ports director of broadcasting showed me a great site to check out for those of you wanting to track the A's minor leaguers. CalLeaguers.com. You can get scouting reports from basically anyone in the California League. You can even see archives on players from last season. Toby also calls the Ports games over the radio which you can listen to live through StocktonPorts.com.