Over a dozen University of Arizona baseball players entered the transfer portal after coach Jay Johnson departed for Louisiana State University in June. Then-freshman catcher Daniel Susac was one of the few players to remain at Arizona despite the coaching change.
In July, Chip Hale, an Arizona alumnus and former MLB player and manager, took over the program. The hire excited Susac, and he has enjoyed working with Hale and the new coaching staff since their arrival.
“This is where I came to play and where I made my commitment,” Susac said. “I’ve built all these friendships with my teammates, and I felt like I would be letting them down if I went to another place. I wanted to give the new coaches a chance, and they have been great. I really like the new staff.”
Susac was a highly-regarded prep catcher out of the California high school ranks and bypassed professional interest to attend Arizona.
The decision to attend Arizona has paid off for Susac. After thriving as a freshman in 2020-21, Susac enters his sophomore campaign as one of the top players in college baseball.
Scouts project Susac as a potential top-five pick in the 2022 MLB draft. Susac has dreamed of playing pro baseball since he was young. He comes from a baseball-rich family, which has helped Susac reach the position he is in today.
Susac’s two older brothers, Andrew and Matt, played college baseball. Andrew, a catcher, played at Oregon State and has played pro ball since 2012. Matt pitched for two seasons at Nevada. Susac’s cousin, Anthony, is a freshman pitcher at Arizona this year.
“It is always something I have wanted to do since I was little,” Susac said. “It has been a goal of mine. But to me, it is a goal for the end of the year. You still have to prove yourself. It’s great to be mentioned with all those great players. But there is still a lot to work on this year.”
Susac made an immediate impact as a freshman, hitting .335 with 24 doubles, 12 home runs, and 65 RBIs in 242 at-bats in 61 games. He hopes to build on that success this spring.
Susac is a 6-foot-4, 205-pound right-handed-hitting catcher who is an advanced player in all aspects of the game. Offensively, Susac projects as a middle-of-the-order bat with above-average power and hitting ability. He uses a simple setup at the plate and drives the ball to all parts of the field.
On the defensive side, Susac displays athleticism and quality lateral movement behind the plate. He has above-average arm strength and a quick release, making it difficult for opposing baserunners to steal on him.
Susac features plenty of upside offensively and defensively. Besides his skills, he also has the makeup and mindset to play catcher long-term.
“I feel like I have a great ability to find things in common with my teammates and build friendships with them,” Susac said. “That builds trust with not only pitchers but my other teammates. I feel like that’s something that I developed in football with being the quarterback that’s translated to baseball.”
Susac’s brother, Andrew, has helped him develop his defensive skills. Andrew’s “philosophy is to be more vanilla and a still and quiet target” behind the plate, Susac said. Susac has tried to incorporate that thinking into his game.
In the offseason, Susac worked on his catching stance and flexibility to be smoother behind the plate, he said.
“I want to get a lot more flexible,” Susac said. “Flexibility is a huge part of the game, especially with being a catcher. I want to get stronger in the weight room and maintain my shape throughout the year.”
Expectations are high for the Wildcats this year. Despite losing multiple talented players in the offseason, the Wildcats believe they have the pieces to advance to the College World Series this year.
Last year, the Wildcats had one of their best seasons in recent memory. They won the Pac-12 for the first time since 2012. They qualified for the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2017 and made their first College World Series appearances in Omaha, Nebraska, since 2016.
Susac hopes the Wildcats can build off last season’s success this spring.
“We want to win the Pac-12 and get back to Omaha,” Susac said. “I didn’t feel like our record in Omaha represented how good our team was. We had some tough breaks. That’s our goal again, and I think we have the team to get back there. We have a great mentality with this team and a bunch of guys who want to get back.”
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for seven years. He has interviewed 356 of the top draft prospects in that period, including four No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today, MLB.com and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he has appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.