Seiya Suzuki materializing into the player the Cubs thought he was when they signed him
Major League Baseball is all about adjustments — mental adjustments, mechanical adjustments, adjusting to how the opponent is pitching you or attacking your pitches.
It’s a constant cycle.
Now throw in a complete shock to the system in every other facet of life — new organization, new teammates, new coaches, new city, new country, new language, new societal customs.
2022 has represented an entirely new way of life for Seiya Suzuki, so it’s not a shock that he’s had a bit of a learning curve.
Suzuki was the Cubs’ prized signing in free agency after the lockout ended, inking a 5-year, $85 million deal to man right field at Wrigley for the next half-decade.
The 28-year-old has been in a good place on the field lately. Since Aug. 20, he has posted a .337/.406/.535 batting line (.941 OPS) in 24 games. Suzuki has flashed power (4 homers, 5 doubles), patience (9 walks) and some speed (2 stolen bases) while playing solid defense and holding down a spot in the middle of the Cubs lineup on a daily basis.
“He’s played really good baseball for us, good at-bats,” David Ross said. “The consistency that he’s produced for us for a month-plus now has been really solid. I think this is the player we thought he was.
“It’s nice to see him settling in, playing every day, being able to control that. He hasn’t had many days off lately. He’s been doing a really nice job for us.”
Suzuki will get a day off Thursday as the Cubs don’t play. It comes at a perfect time, as he was hit in the hand with a pitch late in Wednesday night’s contest (but remained in the game).
Suzuki’s performance has been a bit of a roller coaster this season, which is to be expected given all that has been thrown at him in a whirlwind rookie season.
He found immediate success with a strong April (.279/.405/.529, .934 OPS) but struggled in May (.211/.279/.338, .617 OPS) before missing over a month with a finger injury.
Suzuki initially hit the ground running after returning from the IL (.400 AVG, 1.044 OPS in 14 games) but hit a slump again in late July and August.
In the 23 games prior to his recent solid stretch, Suzuki was hitting just .152 with a .463 OPS and 27 strikeouts compared to 4 walks.
“He’ll have a lot to assess looking back but I think this is what we were expecting — there’s going to be an adjustment period,” Ross said. “It seems like he’s made that adjustment.”
Suzuki believes he’s finally settled into a comfort zone now.
“I feel like I’m getting used to the atmosphere,” Suzuki said through team translator Toy Matsushita. “I’m facing all these pitchers more than once, so I’m kinda used to what their stuff is. I also feel really good in the box.
“I just feel like everything’s coming together. There are ups and downs — obviously at the start of the season — but I definitely feel better right now.”
Suzuki’s teammates have seen the way he works and how he has kept a positive attitude throughout all the ups and downs this year.
“He’s a great teammate, first and foremost,” Wade Miley said. “Great human being. Really, really enjoyed getting to know him. The work he puts in his unbelievable. He wants to elevate his game each and every day.
“If he goes 0-for-3, even if he has 3 good at-bats, he’s in the cage working. He’s constantly trying to take the next step and elevate himself. … I think he’s gonna get comfortable and understand a routine that’s gonna work for him. It’s been really fun watching him.”
All told, Suzuki has put together a solid rookie season in the big leagues. Entering the weekend, he sports a 114 OPS+ (meaning he is 14% better than league average) with 13 homers, 45 RBI and 48 runs in 103 games.
He also ranks 4th among Cubs position players with 1.7 WAR, behind only Nico Hoerner, Ian Happ and Willson Contreras.
Hoerner understands what Suzuki has had to endure during Year 1 and believes he will be better for it in the long run.
“I think what you’ve seen from him this year is just scratching the surface,” Hoerner said. “Away from the game of baseball, just life-wise, it’s gotta be incredibly challenging.
“He’ll come in to next year with a real sense of what’s ahead of him from weather to travel to opposing pitchers to food to everything in between that a lot of us take for granted. If this is his baseline, you’re looking at a really, really solid player and a guy who’s gonna continue to improve.”