The Pittsburgh Pirates definitely covet Connecticut kids.
The Bucs took no less than three Nutmeg State natives in the MLB draft a couple of weeks ago. Waterford’s Mike Burrows, the dominant righthander who has committed to UConn, was selected in the 11th round. Zac Susi, the Southington product who starred at UConn the past three seasons, was picked in the 12th, and New Haven’s own Dean Lockery was taken in the 32nd round out of Central Connecticut State.
Burrows is still pondering whether to turn pro or honor his commitment to the Huskies. But Susi and Lockery have already kicked off their professional careers in West Virginia and rural Virginia, respectively.
Susi is playing for Class A short-season West Virginia, where the plan is for him to catch every other day or so, after logging more than 50 games behind the plate at UConn this spring. Lockery has reported to Rookie-level Bristol and had three hits in his pro debut on Thursday night.
Add former Fairfield ace Mike Wallace (high-A Bradenton), and go back a little further to Charlie Morton (or even further to Steve Blass), and the Pirates’ Connecticut connection is uncanny.
“It’s awesome,” Susi said. “I’m glad to be alongside those guys (Burrows and Lockery), two really talented baseball players. It’s cool to represent Connecticut in any way you can. I’m really blessed I can represent the town of Southington. I’ve been playing baseball there since I was 4, 5 years old. They put me through Little League, Babe Ruth, middle school, high school ball, met a lot of friends and great coaches. They all paved the way for me to be where I am today.”
It’s not lost on Susi that Southington has had its share of major leaguers over the years: Rob Dibble, Carl Pavano, Chris Denorfia, and currently Sal Romano, a second-year hurler for the Cincinnati Reds.
In fact, Susi is well-acquainted with Romano: he’s dating Sal’s sister, Maryssa.
“I’ve been able to go through high school baseball with somebody who’s already been through the process, being in the minor leagues and making it to ‘The Show,’” said Susi, who comes from pretty good baseball stock himself.
Obviously, “The Show” is a long way off for Susi, who earned a $125,000 signing bonus from the Pirates. For now, he’s content to toil in minor-league obscurity, already a veteran of a six-hour bus ride from Batavia, N.Y. to Granville, W.V. that left him still groggy when reached by phone late Thursday morning.
Susi hit a team-best .335 as a junior this spring for UConn, whose season ended with a loss to Washington in an NCAA Regional game down in South Carolina. Less than a week later, he was drafted by the Pirates. A week after that, he was suiting up for the West Virginia Black Bears.
The decision was an easy one.
“I knew going to UConn that my goal overall was to leave after three years,” said Susi, who will have his final year of school paid for by the Pirates should he ever choose to go back. “I didn’t know what round or whatever, didn’t know if it was gonna happen, but it was a goal. I’m really blessed I was able to do it.”
NEW FACES, DIFFERENT PLACES
Several other players with Connecticut ties have begun either their pro careers over the past week.
J.T. Hintzen of Greenwich, a 10th-round pick by Milwaukee, is at Rookie-level Helena. UConn closer P.J. Poulin, an 11th-round pick by Colorado, is at Class A short-season Boise. University of Hartford hurler Seth Pinkerton, a 20th-round pick by Minnesota, is at Rookie-level Elizabethton. Darien’s Jacob Stevens, who was selected by Arizona in the 21st round, is at Rookie-level Missoula.
Tim Cate, the UConn ace lefty from Manchester who was a second-round pick by Washington, reportedly signed with the Nationals for $986,200, according to mlb.com. No news yet on a minor-league assignment for Cate, who dealt with forearm tightness this season.