A couple of weeks ago, the Minnesota Twins signed catcher Kurt Suzuki to a two-year contract extension worth $12 million, with a vesting option for a third season. Is this worthwhile? Several readers asked for a Prospect Retrospective on Suzuki, so let's take a look at his career path and development as a prospect.
Kurt Suzuki played college ball at Cal State Fullerton. He served as a backup catcher his freshman year in 2002, then took over as a regular in 2003 and hit .350/.441/.462, drawing good reviews for his defense. His junior season in 2004 was even better: .413/.511/.702 with 16 homers, 49 walks and just 25 strikeouts in 252 at-bats. Scouts weren't sure how much of that power would carry forward into pro ball, but his overall package was attactive and he was drafted in the second round by the Oakland Athletics.
Oakland assigned him to Vancouver in the Northwest League, where he hit .297/.394/.440 in 46 games. I liked him a lot in college and gave him a Grade B in the 2005 book, noting his reputation for strong field leadership, defense, and the excellent strike zone judgment.
Assigned to Stockton in the California League for '05, Suzuki hit .277/.378/.440 with 12 homers, 63 walks, and 61 strikeouts in 441 at-bats. He showed very fine plate discipline and some pop in the bat, but scouts said his defense deteriorated and his footwork was substandard. He threw out 37% of runners, which was good, but his passed ball and error rates were quite high and in-person reports were rather negative, to the point that some wondered if he could remain behind the plate. I lowered him to Grade C+ in the '06 book, speculating that perhaps he had been playing through an injury of some kind, since his defense had previously been rated very highly.
Suzuki played 99 games for Double-A Midland in 2006, hitting .285/.392/.415, again showing fine command of the zone (58/50 BB/K) with a touch of pop. His defense was much better and in keeping with what he did in college: he showed more mobility and smoother footwork, throwing out 47% of runners with dramatic improvements in the passed ball and error departments. I moved him back up to Grade B-.
Suzuki split 2007 between Triple-A and the majors, hitting .280/.351/.365 for Sacramento (55 games) and .249/.327/.408 for Oakland (68 games). As you know he took over as the full-time starter in 2008 and held the job for four seasons until being traded to the Washington Nationals.
The Twins picked him up as a free agent this past winter and he's having the best season of his career offensively, hitting .307/.367/.401 so far (career-best wRC+ of 118). In fWAR terms he's at 2.0 so far this year, not on course to exceed the 3.3 and 3.1 marks he generated in '08 and '09. His defense has declined a bit with age, though he is still an above-average gloveman overall.
His career to this point: .258/.316/.378 in 3660 plate appearances, wRC+89, fWAR 14.1. Comparable players through age 30 include Ray Fosse, Milt May, Rich Gedman, Sammy White, Terry Kennedy, Ramon Hernandez, Ed Herrmann, Jody Davis, and Johnny Edwards according to Sim Score. Interesting PECOTA comps include A.J. Pierzynski, Bill Freehan, and Tim McCarver.
Looking at that list, Fosse was finished at age 31 due to injuries. May played regularly through age 32. Gedman was finished as an effective player at 29, so Suzuki has already exceeded that. White had a good year at age 31 then collapsed. Kennedy played regularly through age 34. Hernandez was effective through age 35 though with declining durability. Herrmann was finished at 31. Davis was effective at 30 then declined quickly from age 31 and finished at 33. Edwards played regularly through age 34. AJPz is still playing at age 37. Freehan played regularly through 33. McCarver was a regular at 31 then lasted through 37 as a part-timer.
With these 13 comps in mind, a two-year contract for Suzuki seems reasonable to me. Nine of those guys were still worthwhile players at age 31 and seven of them at age 32. I wouldn't expect Suzuki to keep hitting .307 but there is a good chance that the Twins will get at least one more workable year out of him.