Prospect Profile: Kurt Suzuki

Oakland A's prospect Kurt Suzuki had the kind of 2004 season that little kids dream of when they are playing catch in the backyard. Suzuki led his Cal State Fullerton team to the College World Series by hitting .413 with 16 HR and 87 RBI. Then Suzuki had the game-winning hit in the CWS championship game. After that, Suzuki was named first-team All American and the Johnny Bench Catcher of the Year. So what is next for the A's catching prospect they call Kurt Klutch?

Kurt Suzuki has always had to prove people wrong. He was a lightly regarded prospect coming out of Maui's Baldwin High School. He was offered a scholarship to the University of Hawaii to play baseball, but Suzuki wanted to push himself against the elite collegiate competition so he walked on at Cal State Fullerton. Needless to say, it was a decision that was beneficial for both Suzuki and the Titans.

Suzuki burst onto the scene as a freshman, compiling a .994 OPS in 29 games for Fullerton. The Hawaii native continued to impress during his sophomore season, as he gained more playing time and continued to hit for a high batting average. However, it was his third season for Fullerton that Suzuki really came into his own. The right-handed batter was the Titans' leading offensive force, as well as a consistent presence behind the plate. Suzuki led the Big West Conference in batting average and runs batted in and was one off the lead for homeruns. He also developed a reputation for being cool under pressure, earning him the nickname Kurt Klutch.

After winning the CWS title in dramatic fashion, Suzuki found his off-season filled with award ceremonies. First, he was named the Big West Conference's 2004 Player of the Year. Then he won the Johnny Bench Award for the best collegiate catcher and was later tabbed the Brooks Wallace Collegiate Player of the Year. Not bad for a kid who wasn't even a scholarship player when he arrived at college.

Suzuki was drafted by the Oakland A's in the second round of June 2004 Draft. He signed in mid-July and was sent to short-season Vancouver to make his professional baseball debut. Suzuki adjusted quickly to the wooden bats and had a strong offensive season for the Canadians. Kurt displayed a good sense of the strike zone, posting a .388 OBP. He also showed good gap power, crunching 10 doubles and three triples to go along with his three homeruns in only 44 games played.

Suzuki displayed the same line drive swing that made him a top offensive catcher in college. If he has one weakness, it is his tendency to try to pull everything to left field. However, that is common problem for players adjusting from aluminum to wooden bats and is something Suzuki should be able to fix as he grows into his game. He has excellent plate coverage and good balance at the plate. Suzuki may never be a 25 homerun hitter, but he has above average power for a catcher and should post double digit homeruns as he grows. He is very effective at working the count into the hitter's advantage, which means he will likely hit for a high batting average throughout his career. His offensive game can be compared to Detroit Tigers catcher Ivan Rodriguez, with less power.

Defensively, Suzuki is solid. He has a good body for catching – strong and compact – and he has soft hands. At one point in college, Suzuki went over 300 attempts behind the plate without making an error. He displayed a strong and accurate throwing arm in college. He struggled a bit with his throwing at Vancouver, but it may have been due to tiring from the heavy catching workload he endured in 2004.

Suzuki will be 21 throughout the 2005 baseball season, so the A's won't rush him through their system. He will likely spend the season in Low-A Kane County, where he will be the team's primary catcher (he shared catching duties with Landon Powell last season). The A's have a number of catching prospects, but Suzuki has as high a ceiling as any of them, so he will be closely watched as he rises through the A's system.

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