The Baseball America staff caught up with a number of players during media day at the Triple-A all-star game in Durham, N.C. Here we present a prospect notebook featuring Nationals outfielder Steven Souza, Giants catcher Andrew Susac and veteran Blue Jays reliever Bobby Korecky.
Souza Salvages Career By Taking Good Advice
Syracuse outfielder Steven Souza entered the Triple-A all-star break as the International League leader in four categories, including average (.371), on-base percentage (.449) and slugging (.615). Invited to participate in the home run derby at the Triple-A all-star game, the 25-year-old Nationals prospect declined.
He didn't want to mess with a good thing. Not in a season in which he bashed 14 homers, drove in an IL-leading 62 runs through mid-July and made his big league debut.
Such an ascendance for Souza hardly seemed possible just two years ago, when the Nationals reset his development clock by sending him back to low Class A Hagerstown, where the 2007 second-round pick spent part of 2008 and all of 2009-10. His 2010 campaign was cut short by a 50-game suspension after he tested positive in July for methylphenidate and ritalinic acid, which are classified by the minor league drug program as performance enhancers.
At Hagerstown, hitting coach Mark Harris offered career-altering advice to Souza.
"He ingrained in me that I need to think middle of the field," he said, "and that I need to learn to be a hitter first."
Message received. Souza hit a combined .297 at Hagerstown and high Class A Potomac in 2012, mashing a career-high 23 home runs. He hit .297 again in 2013, this time at Double-A Harrisburg, capping the year with a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League in October and his addition to the Washington 40-man roster in November.
Souza downplays his recent success, deferring credit to his renewed religious faith. "I give credit to God for changing my life," he said, "and for helping me to see the fun in this game."
Opposing IL pitchers certainly aren't relying on providence to retire Souza these days, now that they've identified him as a major threat in the Syracuse lineup. They've begun to tailor game plans around his presence, but Souza feels like he has a secret weapon.
"Pitching coach Paul Menhart helps give me the perspective of the opposing pitchers," he said, "and how they think and how they want to attack."
Drafted as a third baseman out of high school in Everett, Wash., Souza played primarily the hot corner through the 2010 season, but he shifted to first base when he returned from his suspension the following season. He moved to right field in 2012 and has the above-average speed to handle center field at least on a short-term basis.
The Nationals see Souza as having a ceiling as an everyday corner outfielder with power, speed and feel for the strike zone, and those projections probably would be realized in Washington this season if not for the organization's wealth of talented outfielders.
Things change quickly in baseball, however, and one transaction could clear a path for Souza in Washington—or somewhere else.
Susac Doesn't Have To Look Far For Role Model
Is having your home manager at the all-star game an advantage? Just ask Andrew Susac.
The Fresno catcher, the Giants' No. 3 prospect in our Midseason Prospect Update—available for purchase through iTunes—is happy to be in Durham for the Triple-A exhibition on Wednesday night, but he won't be behind the plate for the Pacific Coast League when it begins.
Asked if having Fresno skipper Bob Mariano as the PCL manager helped his cause, Susac said with a laugh, "I ain't starting. Put it that way."
Still, he's thrilled to be taking part rather than taking a short vacation.
"To me, this is time off," Susac said. "It's all fun, especially around a good group of guys."
The 2011 second-round pick from Oregon State, now 24, realizes his dream of playing in the major leagues is close to fruition, whether it's sharing time with Buster Posey or starting at catcher if Posey moves to first base.
But he also knows he has work to do at Triple-A.
"(The Giants) tell me to keep making good strides," Susac said. "That's how I've always been anyway—keep going on the same track. There's always something to work on.
"I have a pretty good approach, so plate discipline's never been a problem. I need to cut down on the strikeouts, obviously, and work on my blocking, just normal information for a catcher."
In his first season at the Triple-A level, Susac has hit .268/.381/.454 with nine homers in 57 games, showing plus power and discipline for a catcher. He also had gunned down 37 percent of basestealers.
One thing is certain: Susac and the Giants hope he can emulate Posey.
"I (shade) toward him, because I grew up watching him," he said of attending spring training with Posey in the past. "It's fun to watch him play. He's what I envision myself playing like one day. He's a good guy to look up to . . . it's pretty impressive the way he plays."
Korecky Never Wavered From Blue Jays
What if you were selected to attend one of the signature events of your profession, only to be fired by your company days before that event?
If you're Buffalo reliever Bobby Korecky, you handle it with the grace of a 13-year veteran who knows the vagaries of minor league life.
The 34-year-old righthander made the International League all-star roster, but despite compiling a 0.57 ERA, 12 saves and an 0.83 WHIP for the Bisons, Korecky was designated for assignment by the Blue Jays when the team called up veteran first baseman Dan Johnson on July 11.
With the all-star game just days away, Korecky was in limbo, at least contractually. He never strayed emotionally.
"It could have been free agency, or sign back with the team (thus accepting an outright assignment)," Korecky said while signing autographs for fans on Tuesday. "I really enjoy the organization—they gave me a chance this year. I knew I was coming back right away. That was set up for me before they decided."
Korecky cleared waivers over the weekend and was back in the Blue Jays organization in time to travel to Durham for the all-star festivities.
"The more you see, the more you realize is not in your control," he said. "You kind of roll with it. I'm fortunate to be where I'm at. In the long run, it'll all work out."
Korecky said he never considered joining another organization and completely understood Toronto's decision.
"You can kind of see it coming," he said. "You know they had some injuries . . . (and) Dan really deserved to go to the big leagues. I've been around for awhile, so they're probably going to lose somebody else they take off the 40-man (roster).
"Some of these young prospects, they're protected for a reason. You know, guys like me and the way Dan was, if they need me in the big leagues, they're able to make a spot one day. Anything could happen."
And if it were to happen again, Korecky's fine with it.
"I'm very comfortable with the coaches and coordinators," he said. "They treat me with respect. I plan on (staying with) with the Jays for however long that is, or until they're ready to move on."