Kurt Kiyoshi Suzuki
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 0", Weight 205 lb.
- School California State University, Fullerton
- High School Baldwin High School
- Debut June 12, 2007
Catcher Kurt Suzuki made his major league debut in 2007 after success on the college, minor league and international stage.
He hit .392/.523/.471 in limited action as a college freshman in 2002, then batted .350/.441/.462 the next season and appeared in the 2003 College World Series. In 2004, Kurt had a huge season, hitting .413/.511/.702 with 77 runs and 87 RBI in 69 games. The three primary sources all named him as a first-team All-American. He was awarded the Johnny Bench Award for best college catcher, was the All-Big West catcher and Big West Player of the Year awards. He led the Big West in average (by 30 points), runs, hits (104) and RBI. He was 14th in NCAA Division I in average, tied for sixth in runs with Dustin Pedroia and Matt Macri, tied for 7th in hits, 7th in OBP, tied for third in total bases (177) and tied Eric Nielsen for fourth in RBI. He was in a 2-for-22 rut in the 2004 College World Series when he singled in the game-winner in the finale against the favored University of Texas.
Assigned to the Vancouver Canadians, Kurt hit .297/.394/.440 in 46 games. Baseball America named him the #12 prospect in the Northwest League. In 2005, Suzuki hit .277/.378/.440 for the Stockton Ports and scored 85 runs, second on the club. He led California League catchers in both passed balls (19) and errors (15) as well as putouts (882).
In 2006, Kurt continued his climb up the ranks, posting a .285/.392/.415 line for the Midland Rockhounds and made the Texas League All-Star team. He was sixth in the TL in OBP. He also backed up Neil Walker as the USA's catcher in the 2006 Futures Game, going 0 for 1. Baseball America ranked him as the #14 prospect in the league, right behind TL RBI leader Joe Koshansky. They also rated him as the best defensive catcher in the loop. Suzuki hit .455/.478/.909 in the qualifying tournament for the 2008 Olympics, including a 2-for-5 game against the Cuba national team. He was the primary catcher ahead of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and had one of the better averages in the tourney.
Suzuki began 2007 with the Sacramento River Cats and hit .280/.351/.365 in 55 games. He was then called up by Oakland to replace Adam Melhuse as the backup to Jason Kendall after Melhuse was traded. In his major league debut, he pinch-hit for Santiago Casilla in the 10th inning against Dave Borkowski and grounded out to Morgan Ensberg. Suzuki stayed in the game to catch, with Kendall moving to left field. His first at-bat was a pinch-hit 11th-inning single off Brian Moehler on June 14. Five days later, he hit his first home run, taking Todd Coffey deep. He impressed the A's brass enough that they decided to trade Kendall at mid-season, handing over the starting job to Suzuki. He finished his first season with a .249/.327/.408 batting line for a 98 OPS+ in 68 games, with 13 doubles and 7 homers. He fielded .996 but only threw out 19% of attempted base-stealers.
In 2008, Suzuki played the full season as the A's starter, getting into 148 games and hit .279/.346/.370 with 25 doubles and 7 homers for a 96 OPS+. He tied for 7th in the 2008 AL with 11 times hit by pitch and tied for 10th in double play grounders (20). Defensively, he led AL backstops with 927 putouts and threw out 36.8% of attempted base thieves, 5th in the league. His 32 assists were second, one behind Jose Molina. His power then shot up in 2009; in 147 games, his average was .279, but he increased his extra-base production to 37 doubles and 15 homers, driving in 88 runs. He fell to a .313 OBP, with only 28 walks, but slugged .421; overall, his OPS+ fell slightly to 93. He only had 3 passed balls and fielded .995. He was among the 2009 AL leaders in sacrifice flies (tied for 9th), fewest at-bats per strikeout (9.7, 7th), catcher putouts (923), catcher assists (68, 2nd to Gerald Laird), fielding percentage behind the plate (4th, between Joe Mauer and A.J. Pierzynski) and runners thrown out stealing (27, tied for 4th with Rod Barajas).
On the verge of becoming one of the American League's top catchers, he fell back the next year, and never quite reached those peaks again. However, his excellent defense kept him in the starting line-up in spite of the decline in his offense. His average was .242 in 2010, with an OBP barely above .300 at .303, with 18 doubles, 13 homers and 71 RBI. He slugged .366 as his OPS+ fell to 83. His fielding percentage fell to .991 and his passed ball total rose to 7. He was among the 2010 AL leaders in the following departments: hit by pitch (12, tied for 5th with Travis Hafner and Josh Wilson), double play ground balls (20, tied for 5th), at-bats per K (10.1, 4th-lowest, between Pierzynski and Vladimir Guerrero), putouts at catcher (825, 2nd to Pierzynski), errors at catcher (8, tied for 3rd with Jorge Posada) and passed balls (tied for 3rd, behind Rob Johnson and Posada).
In 2011, his batting line remained at the same level - .237/.301/.385 in 134 games (his OPS+ improving to 90), with 26 doubles and 14 homers, but only 44 RBI. His 914 putouts behind the plate were second in the 2011 AL behind Alex Avila and he was second in runners thrown out (38) but he also tied Carlos Santana for 4th in errors (7) and allowed the most steals (98).
His production continued to fall in 2012. He played 75 games for Oakland, but hit only .218 with an awful .250 OBP and .286 slugging, a single homer and 18 RBI. Sensing that his days as a productive starting catcher were over, the A's traded him to the Washington Nationals on August 3rd, receiving minor league backstop David Freitas in return. The Nationals were looking for him to become their starter, having had to use back-up Jesus Flores in the role since starter Wilson Ramos went on the disabled list with a knee injury in mid-July. He hit .267/.321/.404 in 63 games for the Nats, with 5 homers and 25 RBIs. He then started all five postseason games for the team, going 4 for 17 in their loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS.
Suzuki returned to the Nationals at the start of 2013 and played 79 games for the team, hitting .222/.283/.310 with 3 homers and 25 RBI. The Nationals were quickly out of the postseason picture that season, and Suzuki's mediocre production with the bat meant that they were not willing to commit to him over the long term. On August 23rd, he was traded to his original team, the Athletics, who were playoff bound, in return for minor leaguer Dakota Bacus. He did not play much for the A's though, but collected 10 hits in 33 at-bats with a pair homers. However, young Stephen Vogt had by then gained manager Bob Melvin's confidence as the team's backstop, meaning Suzuki did not play at all in the postseason. After the season, on December 20th, he signed a one-year contract with the Minnesota Twins where he was expected to take over for Joe Mauer as the team's starting catcher, Mauer having moved to first base.
Kutr ended up playing three full seasons in Minnesota. In 2014, he was an All-Star for the only time of his career as he played 131 games and hit .288 with 3 homers and 61 RBIs. As an added bnus, the All-Star game was played in his home ballpark of Target Field that year. His OPS+ of 105 was the highest of his career for a full season. In 2015, the Twins made a surprise run at the postseason under first-year manager Paul Molitor and Kurt played another 131 games, although his offensive production fell off. He was down to a .240 average, with an OBP of only .296, as his OPS+ tumbled al the way to 69. The Twins, who ultimately fell short of the playoffs, were concerned about this and acquired young John Ryan Murphy after the season with the hope he was ready to become the starting catcher. However, this didn't turn out to be the case, and Kurt ended up being the team's most-used catcher again in 2016. His production bounced back to some extent, as he hit .258 with 8 homers and 59 RBIs, for an OPS+ of 90, but the Twins had a disastrous season, finishing last with 103 losses. He became a free agent after the season and on January 30, 2017 signed a one-year deal with the Atlanta Braves.
On July 2, 2017, he hit a game-winning homer in the 12th inning against John Axford of the Oakland Athletics as part of a two-homer game that Atlanta won, 4-3. It was his first multi-homer game since 2011. He hit .283 in 81 games that year, with 19 homers and 50 RBIs, essentially splitting playing time with Tyler Flowers. In 2018, he was more clearly the number 1 as Atlanta surged to an unexpected division title motored by a group of young players. Suzuki was one of the few veterans seeing regular playing time on that squad, hitting .271 with 12 homers and 50 RBIs in 105 games. He went 2 for 8 with 2 RBIs in the Braves' loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Division Series. On November 19th, he signed a free agent contract to return to the Washington Nationals, a two-year deal worth $10 million. He was expected to again split playing time with another veteran, this time Matt Wieters.