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John Suomi

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John Richard Suomi

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[edit] Biographical Information

John Suomi is a catcher who has played 12 seasons in the minor leagues and was named to Team Canada's roster for the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

Originally from the Toronto, ON area, Suomi played college baseball in Western Canada, in Kamloops, BC. He was selected by the Oakland Athletics in the 22nd round of the 2000 amateur draft (the scout was Gary McGraw) and began his career that season with the AZL Athletics of the Arizona League. He hit .264/.365/.310 in 31 games at age 19, then repeated the level in 2001, hitting .257/.374/.429 with 14 doubles, 4 homers and 43 RBI in 52 games. He led the Arizona League's catchers in both putouts (295) and passed balls (22). In 2002, he split his time between catcher and the outfield in 41 games with the Vancouver Canadians of the Northwest League, then finished the year as a backstop for the Visalia Oaks of the California League, where he played another 20 games. In total, he hit .241/.305/.387, with 13 doubles and 6 homers, driving in 34 runs in 61 games.

In 2003, Suomi split the catching duties with John Baker for the Kane County Cougars of the Midwest League, playing 69 games with a .257 average (.298 OBP and .357 SLG), 19 doubles, but only 1 homer. Baker was a top prospect and would go on to play a number of seasons in the majors, so the significant playing time that Suomi received at his expense is a sign of how well-regarded he was in the A's organization. 2004 turned out to be John's busiest season, as he got into 134 games for the Modesto A's of the California League, playing 20 games at third base in addition to 92 behind the plate. He hit a solid .295/.345/.440, with 35 doubles, 12 homers and 99 RBI, all career highs. He also had 25 passed balls, pacing the California League. He tied Luis Cruz and Jesus Guzman for 7th in the loop in doubles and was second in RBI, 19 behind leader Mike Napoli. He was named to the league's mid-summer All-Star team; Phil Avlas beat him out for the postseason All-Star catching honor. He seemed headed to the majors in short order at that point, but he then suffered a fateful injury that derailed his career in the third game of the league finals against the Lancaster Jethawks. In the 10th inning of a tie game, he suffered a serious knee injury while unsuccessfully trying to block the plate against Reggie Abercrombie. He missed the last two games of the finals and the entire 2005 season as a result of the injury, and was no longer considered a serious prospect after that point.

Suomi was back in organized baseball in 2006, but was now in the Pittsburgh Pirates' organization, hitting .260/.336/.382 in 81 games for the Lynchburg Hillcats in the Carolina League, splitting time with Neil Walker. He started 2007 in the Washington Nationals organization, getting his first taste of AA ball with the Harrisburg Senators of the Eastern League and even made it to AAA with the Columbus Clippers for five games. However, he did not hit much with either team, with batting averages of .223 and .176 respectively, and at the end of June, he moved to yet another organization in a cash transaction, that of the Philadelphia Phillies. He finished the season back in A-Ball, with the Clearwater Threshers of the Florida State League, where he hit .258 in 20 games.

The Phillies saw Suomi strictly as an organizational soldier, who could be a little-used back-up at any level of their organization where an experienced catcher was needed. Thus, in 2008, he played 32 games with the AA Reading Phillies and 24 for the AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs, while mostly riding the bench. He hit .240 in the 56 games, but still hit 13 doubles and 4 homers in fewer than 200 at-bats to slug .380; his OBP was .286. Looking for a chance to play some more, he tried his luck with the Kansas City Royals in 2009, but was used in almost exactly the same fashion: he played 37 games with the AA Northwest Arkansas Naturals and 23 with the Omaha Royals, getting a total of 195 at-bats, with 9 doubles, 8 homers and .246/.304/.436 batting line. He was back in the Phillies' system in 2010, getting playing time in Clearwater, Reading and Lehigh Valley, three places he was already familiar with. He played 70 games, got 212 at-bats, and hit .264/.303/.368. On May 18th, he caught all 16 innings of a Lehigh Valley-Louisville match. 2011 was more of the same, with stops in the same three cities and .281/.323/.446 line in 41 games. In 2012, he spent the entire season in AAA however, and posted his usual numbers while only facing the higher level of competition of the International League, a circuit in which the majority of players have major league experience. Suomi hit a creditable .265 in 64 games, with 13 doubles and 4 homers (for a .393 SLG, with a .311 OBP), but still did not get the call to the Show. Originally the back-up for Erik Kratz, he got to play more regularly when Kratz spent time in the major leagues, and was even named the International League's Player of the Week on June 3rd when he collected 12 hits in 5 games in Kratz's absence.

Suomi caught perhaps the biggest break of his otherwise unremarkable career on February 26, 2013, when he was chosen by Team Canada to replace Russell Martin on the roster, after the veteran catcher had pulled out from the team a few days before the start of the tournament. Suomi was picked over experienced major leaguers like George Kottaras, Mike Nickeas and Luke Carlin, and while he was not expected to get much - if any - playing time behind starter Chris Robinson, his inclusion on the national squad immediately became the highlight of his baseball resumé.

Suomi is not considered a particularly good defensive catcher, as his throwing arm is below average, but he is liked by pitchers as he calls a good game, and is not one to back down from adversity, as his career-upending knee injury in 2004 demonstrated. Combined with his decent bat, that makes him a valuable back-up at a position where talent is often hard to find. He is known for his easy-going personality, his ability to mentor young pitchers, and his eschewing of the usual baseball-player clichés, given he grew up in Canada, another key to his longevity in the game. he has worked as a baseball instructor in the off-season and seems to have the typical profile of a player who will move into coaching once his playing career is done.

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