TAMPA, Fla. – Brad Suttle has overcome a lot just to get his career back on track.
The 25-year-old native of Boerne, Texas, the Yankees’ fourth-round pick in 2007, has overcome shoulder surgery that cost him the 2009 season, a hip-flexor strain that put him on the disabled list twice in 2008 and Type I Diabetes, for which he wears a pump and monitors every game.
“I came down with the diabetes when I was 12,’’ Suttle said. “It’s something I’ve learned to live with, and I control it better every year. It’s just something I have to take care of.’’
Suttle, who was both All-America and Academic All-America at the University of Texas in 2007, took care of matters quite well at Class-A Advanced Tampa in 2010, and received an invitation to Yankees camp. He batted .272 (140-for-514) with the T-Yanks, with 33 doubles, four triples, 10 home runs and 80 RBIs.
Then, in the Florida State League playoffs, in which Tampa captured its second straight Florida State League title, Suttle hit .304 (7-for-23) with three homers, nine RBIs and a pair of stolen bases.
“After missing 2009, it took awhile for me to get my confidence back, and then get my consistency back,’’ he said. “I was real pleased with my season, hitting over .270 and getting ten home runs. I just want to improve on those numbers in Trenton.
“It was a case of staying healthy and taking care of myself. Staying healthy is the number-one goal for this season.’’
When informed Mercer County Waterfront Park, his soon-to-be home stadium, is a pitchers’ park, and that certain other Eastern League edifices are hitter-friendly for a switch-hitter with a sweet thing and power, his eyes lit up a bit.
“Really,’’ he said. “I’d like to add to my home-run total if I could. That would be good.’’
The Yankees drafted Suttle because they liked not only his offensive tools, but his defensive abilities as well. He was named the South Atlantic League’s “Best Defensive Third Baseman’’ by Baseball America while playing at Class-A Charleston, and led all FSL third-sackers in fielding percentage with .951 in 2010.
Scouts loved his play in 2010, as his envisioned total package was on display with the T-Yanks. Now Suttle faces the challenge of repeating that effort with the Thunder at Double-A, often the toughest hurdle to climb.
“I’ve heard that about that (Double-A) level,’’ he said. “I’m ready to get things going with this season.’’
Thunder manager Tony Franklin likes what he sees from Suttle so far in spring training.
“I can tell Brad has a lot of ability in both the offensive and defensive parts of the game,’’ said Franklin. “I’m glad to have him this season. He could be a key player for us.’’
Where in the infield has been a question, with speculation of a possible move to first base, where he has worked some, if infielders Corban Joseph and David Adams both start the season in Trenton. There also has been talk around camp that Adams, now returning to health, could open at Triple-A Scranton and the Yankees might want to keep Suttle at third base.
He played third base in Grapefruit League games with the Yankees.
“Most of my work has been at third,’’ Suttle said, “but it doesn’t matter. I really think there are aspects about each position that are similar. Wherever they want me to play is fine.
Echoing Franklin, Suttle could emerge as one of the Thunder’s key forces in 2011.
MUJICA COULD BE A FACTOR: Cuban defector Yadil Mujica, a shortstop who has looked good in camp, adds his name to the Thunder shortstop picture, which also includes a stronger Jose Pirela and 2010 incumbent Luis Nunez.
Mujica defected after hitting .358 for the Cuban National Team in 2009. Some have stated “he can really play,’’ while others are not so certain about Mujica, who could be as old as 27.
The Yankees signed him in February, and where he will play this season is not certain. The Yankees also like Taiwanese shortstop Fu-Lin Kuo, who will probably open the season with Tampa.
BaseLines is providing daily spring-training coverage of the Thunder camp in Tampa. Fla. Comments are welcomed and suggested below, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @jedleyq.