Suwinski eyes consistent CF role with '24 Bucs

February 25th, 2024

BRADENTON, Fla. -- At 25 years old, finds himself in a bit of a peculiar spot with the Pirates. He’s become a valuable part of the team, but in which demographic of player does he fall?

“I’m in that awkward middle ground where we've got some younger guys, we’ve got some older guys,” Suwinski joked. “I’m not really in that young crew anymore, and I’m definitely not in that veteran crew.”

Of course, Suwinski is closer to the younger portion of the clubhouse, but he’s still a good blueprint for the type of guy they hope many of the rookies who broke through to the Majors last year could follow. He got his first full year in the Majors under his belt in 2023, hitting 26 home runs with a .793 OPS.

It was another step forward for the southpaw, who has elevated himself from prospect to a middle-of-the-order bat. Some of his key hitter traits are among the best in the league as well, with his chase (18.2%), walk (14%) and barrel (15.7%) rates all ranking in the 94th percentile or better. That suggests his ceiling could be even higher.

Taking that next step, though? Well, it could be as simple as being more consistent. Like any hitter, Suwinski had peaks and valleys, but they tended to linger. He was able to cruise to a 1.011 OPS in April, for example, but his batting average in August was just .130. The end results were solid, but it wasn’t always pretty getting there.

“We’ve seen Jack really, really good at times, and we’ve seen him struggle at times,” manager Derek Shelton explained. “We need to narrow that gap when he struggles. I think we saw that last year -- more mid-August into September -- when there was more contact. That was something that was important. When he hits the ball, he hits the ball hard. It’s just shrinking down when he goes into those little spells.”

If nothing else, Suwinski is going to provide some consistency in the field. Over the past six years, the Pirates have had six different Opening Day center fielders. Suwinski got his first nod there in 2023, preceded by Bryan Reynolds in '22, Anthony Alford in '21, Jarrod Dyson in '20, J.B. Shuck in '19 and Starling Marte in '18. The only time in the game’s Modern Era (since 1900) when they had a longer stretch of different Opening Day center fielders was 1911-17.

Suwinski is en route to ending that streak and getting a second straight nod in center. He showed last year that he could handle the position, racking up 3 Outs Above Average, according to Baseball Savant. For someone who wasn’t necessarily touted as a center fielder in his rise to the Majors, Suwinski credited that improvement to coaches Tarrik Brock and Stephen Morales for their video work and helping him implement things into games.

“We call those boxes in our work,” Suwinski said. “ ... They do a really good job of getting me ready to go, and then I just go out there and play.”

That Opening Day contest could potentially be against lefty Jesús Luzardo -- another area in which Suwinski is aiming to improve. His .609 OPS against southpaws was far from ideal, but in his first Grapefruit League action Sunday, he showed off some more compact swings against the lefties he faced. That’s something he wants to try to improve -- increasing his contact rate when he doesn’t have the platoon advantage.

As Shelton noted, when Suwinski does make contact, it is usually loud -- so just getting the bat to the ball could be the key to that desired consistency.

“I want to face more lefties,” Suwinski said. “Get as many left-handed at-bats that I can. If I’m not getting at-bats, more work on the machines. Just get used to seeing them more and seeing those shapes and those pitches. Just learn how to handle them better.”

Suwinski buys into a “process” approach, one that helped him improve in both the field and at the dish last year. He played off wondering what year three could bring for him personally, instead focusing on the team -- but another step forward for him would be great for the team.

It would also be another page to the blueprint for those young kids following his lead as he inches closer to being in the veteran category.

“One day at a time,” he said with a smile. “We’ll get there.”