From a batting average standpoint, Jack Suwinski had a disappointing 2023 season.
However, by any other offensive measure, the Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder was pretty good. He did enough over 144 games in his first full major-league season to cover for his .224 average.
Suwinski led the team with 26 home runs as the Pirates went 76-86, a 14-win improvement from 2022, and escaped the National League Central basement for the first time since 2018. He tied Andrew McCutchen for the team lead with 75 walks and was second in stolen bases with 13.
Suwinski’s .793 OPS was good for a 115 OPS+, meaning he was 15% above major-league average offensively.
At 25 years old, Suwinski feels he has more upside at the plate. He also believes he could increase his home run total after also going deep 19 times in 106 games in 2022 as a rookie.
“Yeah, I think there is a little bit more pop in there,” Suwisnki said. “Obviously, I want to be a better hitter all around in all areas. But I do think there’s always going to be room to grow. I think as for myself, there’s more potential in there, and I just want to squeeze every bit out I can. Yeah, I think there’s still a lot to go.”
The continued development of Suwinski’s bat would be a boost to the Pirates.
They were 28th in the major leagues in home runs last season with 159, finishing ahead of just the Washington Nationals (151) and the Cleveland Guardians (124). The Pirates were also 22nd in scoring with 4.27 runs per game.
A 30-home run season would seemingly be within Suwinski’s reach in the upcoming season. However, he is not the type of player who sets goals.
‘I wouldn’t say there’s specific numbers in mind,” Suwinski said. “Once I start thinking about the numbers, then you start trying to control things and I feel like ‘Oh, I’ve got to get this many hits and this many doubles and by this time in that time, and ‘oh, shoot, I didn’t get that many last time, so I’ve got to get more.’
“I think for me, that’s a little bit harder to think about. I think the confidence plays into the other things, those types of numbers I’d say. I’d say they just stack up when I’m at my best, playing confident and loose and fun.”
Suwinski also had fun playing center field regularly for the time in his professional career, which began in 2016 when the San Diego Padres selected him in the 15th round of the amateur draft following his senior year of high school in Chicago.
Suwinski made 112 starts in center field a year ago and seven each in each of the outfield corners. He is the presumptive starting center fielder for 2024, though the Pirates continue to be linked to center fielders in the rumor mill.
The advanced metrics dinged Suwinski’s center field play in 2023 as he had minus-10 defensive runs saved in center field.
Suwinski has been working on his defense during his indoor winter workouts in Chicago. He looks forward to expanding on them once spring training opens next month in Bradenton, Fla.
“I honestly felt really comfortable out there (last year),” Suwinski said. “I think a part of that is the guys on both sides of me. We were able to communicate well and just have [a] pretty good gameplan going into it, like how we want to communicate with each other, how the wall is going play, how we think the crowd is going to be, things like that.
“In terms of, I think something to get better is knowing my space like as I have more room on my right at PNC (Park) than on my left. If I can steal a step in one direction or not, depending on the hitter, who’s pitching things like that. I’d say just like getting those factors a little bit to try and get a little step ahead.”
In a perfect world, Suwinski would take another step in the batting average department to lift his .215 career mark. Yet if he continues to hit home runs, draw his share of walks and steal bases, the Pirates can live with that.