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NCAA Baseball: With MLB Draft in near future, Arizona’s Daniel Susac not ready for stellar college career to end

arizona-wildcats-baseball-daniel-susac-ncaa-regionals-mlb-draft-garrett-irvin-2022-royals-chip-hale Photo by Zac BonDurant/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

CORAL GABLES, Fla.—It’s not hyperbole to say that Daniel Susac had a Roy Hobbs moment last week. Turns out it might have been two.

(If you don’t get the reference, do yourself a favor and watch ‘The Natural’)

Susac, Arizona’s all-conference catcher and surefire future first-round MLB pick, had to leave a Pac-12 Tournament game due to a stomach bug that caused pre- (and in-game) vomiting. But he didn’t exit the 8-6 win over ASU until after launching a 3-run home run in his final at-bat, one that he had to talk his coaches into letting him take.

“Right around the third inning I was just about to pass out,” Susac said. “Got the at-bat, did the most with it. I didn’t think I looked that bad, but then I watched the video and it was a lot worse. I knew I didn’t feel the best but I didn’t know it looked that bad.”

Susac said he began feeling ill in the eighth inning of Arizona’s first Pac-12 game, two days earlier against Oregon, though he said that could have been due to the heat. If that’s the case, it means he hit two homers in a compromised condition, smacking a 2-run shot in the ninth (after hitting a solo blast in the third) of that 8-6 win over the Ducks.

Just add it to the list of his amazing accomplishments during a decorated—but because of his age an unfortunately far to short—Arizona career.

Susac enters what could be his final weekend of college baseball leading the Wildcats in batting (.367), slugging (.598), hits (94), doubles (19) and RBI (61). In 2021 he won Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors and set a UA freshman record with 24 doubles to go with 81 hits, 12 homers and 65 RBI.

His 175 hits are the most by an Arizona player in his first two seasons since at least 1998. A third in red and blue would surely result in him being high on a long list of school career top 10s, but after turning 21 last month he’s a draft-eligible sophomore, and there’s almost no chance he won’t end up turning pro next month.

MLB.com has Susac projected as the No. 9 pick in the 2022 draft, to the Kansas City Royals, while other mock drafts also peg him as coming off the board fairly early. He’d be the 19th first-round pick in UA history, the first since catcher Austin Wells went 28th to the New York Yankees in 2020 and only the eighth in the last 30 years.

Good luck getting Susac to talk about his impending pro career, at least not while his college one is open-ended.

“I know most mocks don’t have a pick,” he said. “If you pay too much attention to it, you can get caught up in it too much. I’m hoping it’s gonna be a long playoff. That’s all I hope for right now.”

Talk to Susac and you’ll experience a beautiful mind that is an encyclopedia of past plate appearances, both for himself and opponents—“I can tell you my at-bats against Belmont Shores, my 9-year old year,” he said—and may be even more analytical when it comes to watching his favorite NFL team, the Green Bay Packers. A quarterback throughout high school in northern California, Susac looks at what players at that position have to do in a similar light to how he handles his duties behind the plate.

“I will tell you, I almost dive deeper sometimes into football,” he said. “I’ll watch press conferences from the Packers. I’ll watch everything. I’ll watch their games. I’ll try to break it down as if I was the quarterback. I’ll see coverages, I’ll read (that) maybe somebody will disguise a cover 4 and then drop int the cover 2 man. And it’s crazy. That’s where I really get my respect for quarterbacks is, realizing the pre- to post-package defenses they jump into, and how quick they can change. The stuff that I don’t really see. The biggest one I’ll see is free plays for the Packers. They have separate routes for if somebody jumps offsides, and it’s just instant that they just know, it’s almost like a chemistry between a catcher and shortstop for a backpick.”

Susac is unquestionably Arizona’s leader, though he still leans toward the soft-spoken side. He said he’s become more vocal this season, whether it be in the locker room or dugout, though his first real “rah rah” moment came prior to the UA’s College World Series opener against Vanderbilt last June.

“I was kind of that shy awkward kid freshman year, you don’t want to come in too confident,” he said. “But before Vanderbilt, it was a little quiet in that little waiting room. I was just like, no, I’m just gonna start dancing. And we just got ready. There was some food in there, and then everybody just finally loosened up, we came out there and put up three in the first.”

Senior left-handed pitcher Garrett Irvin, who will be throwing to Susac for the 31st time in Friday’s NCAA opener against Ole Miss, said he wasn’t present for that dance but he’s seen footage of it.

“Obviously, we need to get the video going again,” he said.

Irvin, who sports a 5-4 record with a 3.22 ERA in 15 starts, credits Susac for his strong 2022 season.

“We’ve gotten into some deep conversations about what I’m trying to do as a pitcher and how we can attack each team,” Irvin said. “When I pitch on Saturdays, he would tell me what he saw in the hitters, what they were looking for, so I think he helped me a lot all this year. I can give him all the credit as well. He’s helped me become a better pitcher.”

Added coach Chip Hale: “What he does behind the plate is just as important.”

Susac takes a 12-game hitting streak, the longest of his UA career, into regionals. If he fails to get a hit in that game—which has happened only 10 times this season—he’ll just follow that up with a big performance. In 2022 he’s batting .447 (21 for 47) with three homers, 14 RBI and 10 runs scored immediately following an o-fer.

“The biggest thing I’ve just tried to give is to try and compete and win every day,” he said. “Whatever I could do every day on the field. If I’m not hitting well, try to catch well, I’m not catching well try to flush it and go hit. Whatever I can do on an everyday basis to try and help us win.”