After another turn in major league camp in 2006, Suzuki headed to Double-A Midland, where he continued to shine offensively. The most notable aspect of his 2006 campaign, however, was the significant improvement he made on defense. Suzuki was among the Texas League leaders in every defensive category for catchers and he cut down his passed ball totals by more than half.
"These past couple of off-seasons, I have mainly focused on my defense. Knowing that the offense would come along, I have really had a defense-first mentality and it's really helped."
Suzuki has always had a patient approach at the plate and that didn't change when he made the difficult leap from High-A to Double-A. He even improved his plate discipline while he was in Midland. For the first time in his career, he walked more than he struck out (58 walks to 55 strikeouts). Suzuki posted a .392 OBP while often batting in the first or second slot in the order for the Midland Rockhounds.
During the final month of the 2006 season, Suzuki left the Rockhounds to join Team USA in the Olympic qualifying tournament. He helped lead the Stars-and-Stripes back into the Olympic tournament by batting .417 in the tournament and belting a walk-off homerun against Brazil.
"You are playing against the best in the world. It was a great experience. I got to play with a lot of guys from different organizations and I learned a lot from them too," Suzuki said.
Suzuki points to his time in big league camp over the past three seasons as one of the reasons for his improvement each year of his minor league career.
"I was honored to be asked to participate in camp with the major league club and I have just tried to learn as much as I can. Like I have the last few years in major league camp, I was just trying to be a sponge and absorb as much as possible [this year]," Suzuki said.
This spring, Suzuki had the opportunity to pick the brain of a future Hall of Famer in Piazza and he took full advantage of the opportunity.
"[Piazza] is a great guy. He is always willing to teach and to give information to try to get you better. He knows that I am a young guy and that I'm trying to learn and he is always willing to give information to help you try to learn," Suzuki said.
One of the highlights of Suzuki's spring came in the final game of the spring schedule. In his last at-bat of the spring, Suzuki launched a long homerun to left off of San Francisco Giants' reliever Vinnie Chulk in front of the A's home crowd at McAfee Coliseum.
"It was an awesome feeling. It was just great to be able to participate. There was a lot of adrenaline running through me [after the homer]," Suzuki said.
Moving up a level for the third consecutive season, Suzuki is ready to tackle the next step in his development towards becoming a major league regular.
"[My goal] is just to keep improving. I think everyone in this game can keep improving and, for me, just improving in all aspects of the game is what I am looking to do," Suzuki said.
With Kendall eligible for free agency after this season, Suzuki's time in Oakland may be fast approaching.
"I'm just trying to get myself ready to the point that the upper brass knows that I am ready to jump in any time they need me to."