Waterford's Sutera pitches his way to a promotion in minor leagues

Tom Sutera figured he might be in line for a promotion.

At the very least, his sparkling pitching statistics at Williamsport, a short-season Class A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies, made him a candidate.

Sutera, who's from Waterford, also noticed a top prospect had climbed to Class AA, so someone had to fill the spot at Class A Lakewood in New Jersey.

Still, nothing could prepare the 22-year-old right-hander for the moment Williamsport manager Pat Borders informed him after a home game last week that he would be moving up to Lakewood, a team in the full-season South Atlantic League.

"I was hoping that by the end of the season that I'd get bumped up to the next level," Sutera said by phone on Thursday. "But I didn't know when it would be. So when they pulled me in to tell me, I was caught off guard and a little bit surprised. I was hoping that it would happen sooner than later.

"Just knowing I'm moving up is a good sign."

Sutera's baseball career has taken a few unexpected turns.

Over year ago, he was playing for Harwich in the Cape Cod Baseball League and intending on returning to Siena for his senior year, Then he pitched well enough to earn a spot on the all-star team and catch the attention of pro scouts.

In a stunning development, a Philadelphia scout offered Sutera, an undrafted free agent, a contract in late July. His first pro stop was rookie ball in Clearwater, Fla., a member of the Gulf Coast League. He made a good first impression. In 6.2 innings over five appearances, he had a 1.35 earned run average.

Spring training in Florida proved to be a real eye opener.

Sutera pitched against several major leaguers on rehab assignments in extended spring training, including Didi Gregorius, Aaron Hicks, Miguel Andujar and Logan Morrison of the New York Yankees.

He first faced Andujar.

"It was a great experience," Sutera said. "No matter what, facing big leaguers you get to gauge what your stuff is like. But the first time was probably the most difficult because you're more star-struck. Then, after that, it was these guys are just playing baseball, just go right at them."

For the record, Sutera got Andujar to swing at a change-up and fly out to right field. The Yankee foursome went a collective 0 for 4 with two walks.

Sutera was happy and so were his college buddies, all big Yankee fans, who had issued a warning to him.

"I told them that I was going to face them and they told me, 'You hit them and we're going to kill you.' It was funny the pitch before Andujar flew out, I almost accidentally drilled him."

It's no accident that Sutera earned a promotion to Lakewood.

Sutera turned in some impressive performances at Williamsport. In seven games, he posted a 1.90 earned run average while striking out 30 and walking just one in 23.2 innings.

He's had outstanding command during his short minor league career, walking four and striking out 42 in 33.1 innings with a terrific 1.89 earned run average in 13 games over two seasons.

His pitching coaches helped clean up some mechancial stuff, he said, improving his command and consistency.

This summer, Sutera crossed paths with another former Waterford standout, Michael Burrows, in the New York-Penn League.

Sutera saw Burrows, who plays for the West Virginia Black Bears, pitched twice against Williamsport. They sat behind the dugout together during the second game of a doubleheader.

"It was cool," Sutera said. "We were just catching up because we hadn't seen each other in awhile. It's awesome to see guys from our town — me, Mike, Nolan Long and Scott Barlow, he's with the Royals and he's from Waterford but moved out to California right before the high school and he's in the bigs — just doing really well in baseball.

"Waterford has always been known for our pitching."

In his Lakewood debut on Saturday, he went three innings, allowing five hits and a run while striking out four and walking two.

He's already finding hitters are better prepared and chase fewer pitchers on this level.

There's more at stake, too.

"There's a little more pressure, especially being a free agent because the Phillies have a very deep pitching staff throughout their minor leagues, so I've seen some of the guys that I played with last year and some of the guys that I knew get released."

Playing baseball still beats the alternative.

Sutera appreciates the daily routine, no matter how challenging at times.

"Every day you wake up and go to the field you're kind of like,' Wow.' My buddies from school are working 9 to 5 jobs and I'm playing baseball," he said. "Living out my dream is definitely something I'm grateful for every day."

g.keefe@theday.com

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