Thursday, November 5, 2009

#25 Jeff Sues

OK, we were temporarily derailed for a couple of days looking up Aki Iwamura's pedigree. Time to get back to the prospect trail, and today it's RHP Jeff Sues.

Jeff Sues, the Pirates 2008 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, was born on June 8, 1983, in Edison, New Jersey. The 26 year-old is 6-4, 215 pounds, and has an arm to match his size, throwing in the mid-nineties, a classic strike out-fly out pitcher.

Sues started at Red Bank HS, and graduated to Vandy. He 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 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, at least in Dave Littlefield's eyes.

The Bucs chose Sues in the fifth round of the 2005 draft, though as is usually the case with old suits' high-end draftees, they could have had him further down the road.

But before he could take the mound as a pro, he had labrum surgery in March of 2006. Sues spent over a year in rehab, and at times was ready to give up the game in frustration. Finally, in late May of 2007, he was sent to Hickory to start his career.

Used as a starter there, he pitched eight 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 a healthy 2008 led to a breakout season. First, the Pirates decided that Sues 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.

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.

Once again, he couldn't quite make it through an entire season. He was shut down on August 8th because of biceps tendinitis. Sues was sent to Scottsdale to play winter ball, to make up for his lost time.

He returned to reality in the Arizona League, a notorious hitter's paradise. Sues' ERA was 8.38, and in 9-2/3 innings he was tagged for 16 hits (including a pair 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 it wasn't a lost posting. Sues began working on getting the ball over on both sides of the dish; before he had been loath to work on the inside black, and that may have contributed to his stat line.

The Pirates thought enough of him to add Sues to the 40-man roster - he was Rule 5 eligible at the end of the 2008 season - and started him off with the Curve again. But his star was about to crash.

In 78-2/3 innings, he was 2-6-2 with a 4.46 ERA, hardly the way to impress the suits. Though his line was pretty poor, with the exception of being a wild child (he walked over 4 batters per nine innings pitched), his other peripheries were pretty solid.

Sues gave up 66 hits with 74 K's, and his opponent split wasn't dramatic, as he held batters to a .225 average while his home run rate dropped to an acceptable lost ball served up once every 11 innings. But he did get beat up in a brief stop at Indy, with an ERA of 6.00 in 8 appearances.

So he has some work to do to reestablish his star. Foremost, he has to work on consistency and command. His heater improved in velocity as the season went forward, but he can't wait until July to loosen up his arm. And he has to find the strike zone, a key to gaining a manager's confidence for a guy destined to earn his daily bread from the bullpen.

Now he'll have to sweat out making the forty-man and if he misses that, the Rule 5 draft. But if he clears those obstacles, he'll get a clean slate in Indy for 2010.

Sues was ranked the Pirates' #7 prospect by Baseball America going into the 2009 season, so we're not ready to deep-six him yet. If he improves his conditioning this winter so he's ready to go out of the blocks and sharpens his command a bit, he could still be on track for a MLB job as a bridge guy and maybe get his name back into the future closer mix.

(Next - #24 Daniel Moskos)

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