ALTOONA, Pa. – A new batting stance at the plate has seemed to unlock a new world of possibilities for Jerrick Suiter.
The former TCU Horned Frog didn’t have numbers in college that would jump out at you, especially for being listed at 6′ 4″ and 235 pounds on his college website. Suiter failed to hit a single home run in his college career, and he finished his time at TCU with a .262 average and .658 OPS. The average was fine, but the lack of extra base hits and an OPS in the mid-.600s doesn’t scream draftee.
There seemed to be a bunch of other intangibles that led the Pirates to Suiter, though. He was a three sport athlete out of high school and enrolled at TCU with the hopes of playing football and baseball. He went through his freshman year of summer workouts for the football team, playing defensive end, but he ended up getting hurt in the process. It was time for him to make a decision for his future.
“Honestly, I went through summer workouts, got done with two-a-days, and ended up getting hurt,” Suiter said. “My baseball coach and I decided to stick with baseball. I knew that baseball was my ticket. I loved football, and it was a lot of fun playing, but I knew in the long run that baseball was going to be my thing.”
Suiter was one of those freakishly athletic people through high school and college. He said that he wished he could have played basketball in college but “being a 6′ 4″ center doesn’t get you very far”. He was a standout football player in high school. His high school football coach even went as far to say that “he could probably do anything he want”, and that he “doesn’t know of a better three-sport athlete.”
He pitched some during his freshman season for the Horned Frogs, but his real potential was at the plate. The problem through the early parts of his baseball career was that, for a guy as large and physically gifted as he was, the power numbers weren’t showing up. In college, Suiter failed to hit a single home run.
“Go watch the college swing,” Curve manager Michael Ryan said. “Uppercut, behind, late. He was out in front with a big stride. He turned into a 5′ 10″ hitter, and swung like a football player.”
Even with his flaws, the Pirates saw enough with Suiter, including his size, athleticism, and ability to make contact, to take him in the 26th round of the MLB Draft in 2014. There were definitely signs of progress through his first two and a half years as a professional, as Suiter was still hitting for a decent average; however, things just weren’t moving along like the Pirates hoped they would.
That’s where the change comes in. It seems simple… he stood up more in his batting stance.
“I was Bagwell-esque before, but now I’m standing up in my stance a whole lot more than I ever was,” Suiter said. “I’m seeing the ball better and putting the barrel on the ball more. It’s going to lead to chances for more hits and a higher slugging percentage, as well.”
He went on to say that the change has allowed him to create more power, even though he has toned his effort level down in his swing.
“I’ve always been a max effort at all times kind of guy,” Suiter said, “but I’ve toned it down and controlled the barrel more. It’s worked for me.”
Combined with self-proclaimed additional patience and a confident two-strike approach (similar to that of Edwin Espinal), everything has worked out over the past two months for Suiter. Since the start of June, Suiter had a .311 batting average and .930 OPS. That includes eight home runs and 12 doubles.
Over that span, Suiter was easily one of the best hitters in the Pirates organization and the Eastern League.
“Honestly, it’s a game of stretches,” Suiter said. “My confidence is high right now, but it could change at the flip of a dime. I try to take it day by day, and each plate appearance is the same thing.”
All things considered, Suiter has been the Curve’s best and most consistent hitter this season. Altogether for the season with Altoona, he has a .287 average and an .824 OPS.
“The guy is a good hitter,” his manager Michael Ryan said. “I saw him hit well last year at times, very similar to what he’s doing right now. He’s just doing it for a longer period of time. He’s earning his playing time every night.”
Ryan said that Suiter has been working extremely hard in the cage, trying to figure out how to best use his body to his advantage at the plate. Suiter has been diligent in working with his hitting coach Kevin Riggs on staying on his legs more and having good balance in his swing, allowing him to stay more towards the middle of the field in his approach.
“After making the change with Riggs, things really turned around for me,” Suiter said. “I’m being patient and trying to get my pitch every at-bat. It’s been paying off for me so far.”
Best of all, the power has shown up, too. Just a few nights ago, Suiter had one of the hardest hit home runs I’ve seen while covering games in Altoona over the last three years. He went to straight away center field and hit it on a line about 420 feet. In total, he has eight home runs so far this season, one short of his career total entering the 2017 campaign.
Standing up taller in his stance has allowed him to create more leverage and extend better. He says that, ultimately, it’s all about finding the barrel of the bat more often.
“It’s in the barrel control,” Suiter said. “This whole time, I thought I was in my legs while in a wide stance. I feel more in my legs now, and I’m using it in my swing.”
Not only home runs, he’s using the entire field and finding gaps, becoming a very well-rounded hitter.
“Power comes later in your career,” Michael Ryan said when asked about Suiter’s recent surge. “You learn how to use your legs better. We look at doubles as an organization; he had a bunch of doubles last year, so you know that the power is going to play later. It’s just a matter of approach and mechanics. You get a good pitch to do it, and right now it is working for him. When he has an indication that something isn’t going well, he can fix it quickly, too.”
Now, with the loss of Jordan Luplow and Edwin Espinal to Triple-A, as well as the hand injury to Logan Hill, there is a need for Suiter to take the reins as the power hitting force in the Curve lineup.
“You have to have some sort of power source in the lineup, and he’s going to be the guy,” Ryan said.
The challenge now is for Suiter to continue what he has done through the summer months. Two months is not a small sample size; however, he needs to be able to finish strong for the possibility of moving up to Triple-A next season. If the bat can stay where it is, as well as continued improvement in the outfield where he has been playing every day, Suiter will open some more eyes.
“I’ve worked my butt off,” he said. “This has been my goal since I was a little kid — to play in the big leagues.”
Looking at prospect rankings, you won’t typically find Jerrick Suiter’s name. I asked Michael Ryan what Suiter needs to do to climb the charts and get to the next level. His answer was intriguing.
“What’s he missing? Baseball America to write about him. It’s because of where he was drafted, how much money he got, all these things that these magazines look for. If he’s a top five pick, Jerrick Suiter is being talked about constantly. It’s a tribute to him for people to talk about him right now. He’s put himself on the map. You earn what you get and the press that you deserve. That’s what he’s doing.”
If he keeps hitting the way he has been this summer, you’ll be hearing a lot more about Jerrick Suiter in the future.