Jeff Sues, the Pirates 2008 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, was born on June 8, 1983, in Edison, New Jersey. We assume he was a big baby, because he's 6-4, 215 pounds now, and has a power arm to match his size, something the suits lust for and that's in short supply in the Buc farm system.
He started at Red Bank HS, and moved on to Vandy. Sues worked out of the bullpen for the Commodores, and in an omen of things to come, missed most of his sophomore season with elbow tendinitis.
He threw in the low 90s, touching 97 MPH on a good day, with a slider and curve, but had problems finding the dish consistently. Still, he had enough stuff to draw some attention.
Sues was selected by Cleveland Indians in 14th round of 2004 Draft as a junior, but didn't sign, chancing another roll of the dice on a good senior year. He was just 3-5 with a save and 4.10 ERA in his last year, but 60 K in 48 innings raised his stock beyond those numbers.
The Bucs chose Sues in the fifth round of the 2005 draft, though as is usually the case with Littlefield/Creech era high-end Pirate draftees, they could have had him further down the road. As a senior, he signed without a fuss, always a key to the Pirates' thinking on draft day.
But before he could take the mound as a pro, he had labrum surgery in March of 2006. Sues spent many frustrating months in rehab, and at times was ready to give up the game. Finally, in late May of 2007, he was sent to Hickory to start his career.
Used as a starter there, he pitched 8 times. He was, as to be expected after a two year hiatus, clocked. Sues was 3-2, but with a 7.18 ERA and big problems with walks and the long ball. To add injury to insult, he went back on the DL in mid-July and the fork was stuck in him for the year.
But like Minor League Player of the Year Jim Negrych, a healthy 2008 led to a breakout season. First, the Pirates decided that his fragile arm wasn't up to the rigors of starting - his velocity dropped as the game wore on, and all the time spent on the DL confirmed his arm strength wasn't where it needed to be - and moved him back to his college spot, working out of the bullpen.
He told Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com that "When I came to spring training I felt like I had new life in me. My arm was normal, I was able to throw hard again, my confidence came back and the results came with it."
Sues split the season pitching for high-A Lynchburg and AA Altoona. In 64 IP, he had 72 K with a 3.22 ERA, and his heater was clocked in the mid 90s, his slider was sharp, and he came up with what he calls a "power curve," which he was confident enough to use whether ahead or behind in the count. His control, though, was still iffy.
Sues is the classic strike out-fly out pitcher. And, of course, he couldn't quite make it through an entire season. He was shut down on August 8th because of biceps tendinitis, but this time it didn't keep him down. Sues was sent to Scottsdale to play winter ball, and his arm is still in one functional piece as the AFL year winds down.
At Lynchburg, Sues posted a 2.11 ERA over 21-1/3 innings, giving up 11 hits and walking six while striking out 17. He limited Carolina League batters to a .153 average, and was promoted to Altoona on May 17th. With the Curve, Sues' line was a 3.77 ERA in 43 innings, walking 20 and striking out 55 while Eastern League batters hit .219 against him.
He's returned to reality in the Arizona League, a notorious hitter's paradise. Sues' ERA is 8.38, and in 9-2/3 innings he's been tagged for 16 hits (two that left the yard), 4 walks, and 3 beaned batters, to go along with 10K.
It's a pretty small sample, especially after missing several weeks of the regular season, but it shows the two areas he needs the most work in if he's going to join the show - control and the gopher ball.
But he's still learning. Sues may be 25, but he only has two years of professional baseball under his belt, so his upside is still there. And he's already taken to heart one lesson that all too many Pirate pitchers seemed to have missed in the minors.
As he said in his Scottsdale blog "Pitching inside can make or break pitchers' outings and careers. A lot of pitchers are afraid to pitch inside. I mention pitching inside because it looks like the hitters, in general, are too comfortable and therefore are diving to the outer edge of the plate. Pitching inside is paramount in this league and higher levels because if you don't it gives the hitter an advantage."
Music to Joe Kerrigan's ears, no doubt. There's no point in being able to throw the ball 95 MPH if you can't back a guy off the plate and put some fear of the Lord in him. Just ask Bob Gibson or Roger Clemens.
And one last thing. Even though Sues spent four years in college and is a Jersey boy, he's the antithesis of a single-minded jock.
He told MLB.com's Kevin Czerwinski that "I don't follow sports at all. I have no interest (in) football, baseball, basketball. I graduated from Vanderbilt with an English degree. I like to read."
Sues says Sidney Sheldon is his favorite author, with his novel "The Other Side of Midnight" topping his list. He reads a different book every week or two and has stacks of them around the house.
"I don't play video games, either," Sues added. "I like to read. It passes the time and I enjoy it. I might be the exception, but it's what I like to do."
Now if the Pirates can only talk Sidney Sheldon into penning a potboiler on pounding the strike zone...