Suggs fueled by title chase, not draft stock
By the middle of conference play last season, Dave Van Horn said Colby Suggs would be a team captain if players were to vote again.
It wasn't a knock on DJ Baxendale, Matt Reynolds or Bo Bigham - the captains voted on before the season - but instead a compliment to the maturity, growth and leadership displayed by Suggs in his second year at Arkansas.
"I think Colby made a huge jump and improved his draft status, but the good thing is it's not all about that for him," Van Horn said. "He wants to win a championship. He's a great leader for us."
Suggs is likely a shoo-in for team captain in the spring, but learning his teammates this fall is priority one. With Baxendale - a three-year starter - departed, Suggs wants to burden the load of expectations on his broad shoulders.
Alongside the likes of Brandon Moore, Barrett Astin and Ryne Stanek, Suggs is one of several pitchers returning from Arkansas' College World Series team from a year ago. The Razorbacks had the school's second-lowest earned run average ever in 2012, allowing more than three earned runs just twice in 10 postseason games.
"I need to learn to communicate with people and to push their buttons the way they need to be pushed," Suggs said. "Different people react different ways, so being able to get under somebody's skin to motivate them without them getting mad - whether they need to be yelled at or be pulled to the side and talked to a little bit - is what I want to learn."
As a sophomore, the right-hander was dominant, finishing the season with a 7-1 record and team-best 1.38 ERA out of the bullpen. After spending most of Christmas break in Fayetteville working with strength coaches, Suggs' mid-to-upper 90s fastball became his out pitch, topping out at 99 miles per hour against Florida last April.
"My freshman year I was a pure secondary pitch pitcher," Suggs said. "I couldn't locate my fastball, so if I wanted to put anybody away I had to go to my off-speed. Working over Christmas and being able to locate my fastball was a turning point for me.
"I got around the right people in the locker room to help me last year. I asked what they did to be successful. I wanted to show that I'm part of that elite pitching staff we had last year. That motivated me."
Suggs was Arkansas' best pitcher during the team's run to Omaha in June. He pitched the final two innings of the Razorbacks' 1-0 win in Game 3 of the Waco Super Regional, working around a bases-loaded jam in the ninth inning to preserve a scoreless tie.
But it was the only earned run he gave up in the postseason that haunted him throughout the off-season. With a 3-2 count and the bases loaded with two outs, Suggs walked in the go-ahead run on a borderline pitch in the eighth inning against South Carolina. The Gamecocks won 3-2 and advanced to the College World Series final.
"I still haven't gotten over it," Suggs said. "That feeling after losing that last game and having to say goodbye to all those great players that raised me the last few years was hard for me."
Though he grew up in Sulphur Springs, Texas, Suggs is a life-long Razorback. His dad grew up in Arkadelphia and would watch Arkansas football and baseball games with son whenever possible.
Suggs called to express interest in Arkansas the day after the Razorbacks' win over Virginia in the 2009 College World Series. He eventually committed while receiving interest from Texas, Oklahoma and Dallas Baptist.
"Whenever I want something, I work at it and go get it," Suggs said.
"I feel like I recruited myself here. As soon as Arkansas called, it was over. I knew I wanted to come here."
His mentality is like that of a bulldog's, Van Horn said. As a reliever, pressure doesn't bother Suggs.
"He wants to close," Van Horn said. "Having him in the back of the bullpen with his mentality and his stuff is big for us.
"You look at the biggest couple of innings, the season is on the line at Baylor and we gave Colby the ball. He did a great job."
Suggs continued his big year in the Cape Cod League over the summer, recording a 1.37 ERA in 19 2/3 innings during the regular season. He added two wins in the postseason, helping the Wareham Gatemen to the league championship.
"It's a great experience to go up to the Cape and be a part of a team that can win it all, but the family we have here is something else," Suggs said. "I want to do it for them."
Suggs' summer bolstered his draft stock. With his velocity and the addition of a third pitch - a change-up - this off-season, he is being talked about in the same way former teammate Nolan Sanburn was prior to last season. Sanburn was a second round pick in last summer's draft.
But Suggs speaks like a true leader, deflecting draft talk to focus on more pressing matters, like the Razorbacks overcoming the hump of finishing third nationally twice since 2009.
"This town has never seen a championship in baseball, so to bring one to them would mean a lot for me and I'm sure it would mean a lot to everybody in this state," Suggs said.
"It's not about me. It's about the team."
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