The San Jose Giants season preview series continues this week with a look at the catching position. Former second round draft pick Andrew Susac received the bulk of the playing time behind the dish last year for the Giants and the expectation is that he'll return to the California League in 2013. Meanwhile, several other catchers, including a pair of familiar faces, are also expected to contend for a spot on the San Jose roster.
For the second straight season, it appears that the Giants catching position will revolve around Susac. The 86th overall pick in the 2011 draft, Susac didn't make his professional debut until the start of last year with San Jose. In 102 games played with the Giants, the backstop hit .244 while also producing 16 doubles, nine home runs and 52 RBI's.
At times, it was a major struggle for Susac at the plate as he got off to a slow start before limping through difficult months in June (.207) and July (.189). However, despite battling the fatigue of going through his first full professional season, Susac finished the year on a high note batting at an impressive .333 clip in August while also showing nice improvement defensively. He threw out 32 percent of attempted base stealers for the season to rank second overall among catchers in the California League.
Baseball America ranks Susac the #13 overall prospect and #1 catcher in the San Francisco organization at the start of this season. BA notes that Susac is "still refining his technique" behind the plate and has "a lot to learn about calling a game." But he's an athletic receiver who "showed flashes of the plus-power (last year) that earned him an over-slot $1.1 million bonus."
It was a challenging year for Susac going through the rigors of a long season while attempting to learn how to play the toughest position on the field at the professional level. With his pedestrian batting average in 2012 and still steep learning curve behind the plate, it's unlikely that the organization will aggressively push Susac to Double-A for the start of this year. Susac will be 23 on opening day and given that it's just his second professional season, he can repeat the California League and still be considered a prospect. If he's back in San Jose though, expectations will be very high for Susac as he looks to build on his excellent August production from last year while continuing to make strides defensively, both from a technique standpoint and his handling of a pitching staff. A lot was thrown at Susac last season and the organization will certainly want to see significant positive steps from their top prospect this year.
Dan Burkhart and Jeff Arnold also saw time at catcher with the San Jose Giants last season and it would not be a surprise if one, or even both, were back in the California League in 2013. Burkhart was the primary back-up to Susac most of the year and fared well offensively in his limited playing time. The former 10th round draft pick hit .298 in 34 games to go with six doubles, two home runs and 19 RBI's. Burkhart occasionally struggled defensively, but provided a nice left-handed bat to the club last season and could be back in San Jose as a back-up, if he doesn't receive a promotion to Double-A.
Meanwhile, Arnold opened last season with the Giants and played well in a back-up role, but was sent down to Augusta (A) in early-May. While technically a demotion, the move was designed to get Arnold more regular playing time (something he was not receiving in SJ with Susac on the roster). As the GreenJackets' primary catcher, Arnold hit .238 with 19 doubles, three home runs and 23 RBI's before returning to the Giants during the final week of the season.
While Arnold's offensive numbers may not catch your eye, he made his biggest impact defensively, where the organization has praised his handing of a young Augusta pitching staff. Baseball America has even chimed in rating Arnold the top defensive catcher in the San Francisco farm system entering this season. If Susac does indeed return to San Jose, it's not unrealistic that Arnold could make the jump to Double-A given his defensive skills. But the most likely scenario probably has Arnold, a former 26th round draft pick, returning to the Giants this year, where he would be reunited with many of last season's Augusta pitchers.
Switch-hitting catcher Joe Staley is another possibility to make the San Jose roster this season. An eighth round draft pick in 2010, Staley led Salem-Keizer (Short-Season) with eight home runs two seasons ago. Last year in Augusta, Staley didn't enjoy quite as much success batting just .230 with 13 doubles, two homers and 23 RBI's in 71 games. A patient hitter, Staley was third on the club in walks and possessed a solid .365 on-base percentage. He should open the year either in a back-up role with San Jose or in Augusta.
San Francisco drafted four catchers last June: Trevor Brown (10th round, UCLA), Leonardo Rojas (15th round, Miami Dade Community College), Ben Turner (21st round, Missouri) and Sam Eberle (25th round, Jacksonville State), but it's unlikely that the organization will view any of the quartet as ready to ascend to San Jose at the start of their first full professional seasons. Brown (.221, 0 HR, 12 RBI) and Eberle (.248, 0 HR, 12 RBI) each saw action with Salem-Keizer last summer.
2013 San Jose Giants Catching Candidates
(2012 regular season statistics are listed)
* Jeff Arnold, C
San Jose: .429, 0 HR, 8 RBI, 1 SB
Augusta: .238, 3 HR, 23 RBI, 1 SB
* Dan Burkhart, C
San Jose: .298, 2 HR, 19 RBI, 1 SB
* Joe Staley, C
Augusta: .230, 2 HR, 23 RBI, 5 SB
* Andrew Susac, C
San Jose: .244, 9 HR, 52 RBI, 1 SB
2013 San Jose Giants previews will conclude next week with a look at the bullpen.
San Jose Giants Season Preview Articles