Zenjiro Suga is a Japanese former professional baseball first baseman who played 13 seasons in the Bull League. He made his major-level debut with the Nevada Speeders in 2007, and retired after the 2019 season, which he played with the Pittsburgh Iron Pigs.
2007-2012: Nevada Speeders
Suga entered the Bull League as a 27-year-old international free agent from Japan, signing a 4-year contract worth $16.32 million with the Nevada Speeders on October 21, 2006. The unusually tall (he is 6'7") switch-hitter was well suited to playing first base, and was known for hitting with power.
He won the Rookie of the Year Award for the AEL in his debut season, playing the full 80 games and batting .321 with 24 homers and 64 RBIs. His defense was exceptional, fielding 694 total chances in 703.1 innings, and committing just 1 error. He had an opt-out clause in his contract, and decided to stay with Nevada after the team posted a 53-27 (.662) first-place finish in the AEL East. The postseason ended with a 3-2 series loss to the Richmond Ravens in the AELCS, and Suga saw the team going places.
He had a succession of good seasons with Nevada, including his first of three MVP award winning years in 2008, when he flirted with .400, hitting .396, and walked more than he struck out, with 69 bases on balls and 59 strikeouts. Despite the personal accolades, Nevada continued to struggle in the postseason. After 2012, the first year the Speeders missed the playoffs since Suga joined, he exercised his opt-out just two years after signing a 7-year extension worth $118.9 million, and he was released as a free agent.
2013-2014: Seattle Salts
The Seattle Salts would become his next destination after the AEL West team inked Suga to a 2-year, $39.2 million deal. In 2013, he picked up his 5th Gold Crown Award as a Salts first baseman, tying Setsuo Kimura of the New York Minutemen for the most Gold Crowns at that position. The next year, the Salts found themselves in the postseason and eventually into the Bull Cup Championship Series where they lost to Montreal, but Suga picked up an Elimination Round MVP award for his work in the 3-0 sweep over the Denver Highlanders.
However, Suga did not re-sign with Seattle and he became a free agent once again.
2015-2019: Hamilton Crusaders/Rimouski Fighting Moose/Pittsburgh Iron Pigs
In 2014, Suga signed a two-year, $23 million contract to play for the Hamilton Crusaders (now called the Pittsburgh Iron Pigs). In his first year there, he tallied his 500th career run scored, and won another defensive award. Another milestone came in June 2016, with his 200th career home run. That season, the 36-year-old Suga signed a 3-year extension for $60 million.
In 2017, the team moved to Rimouski, Quebec, and was renamed to the Rimouski Fighting Moose. There, Suga was once again in the playoffs as the Fighting Moose leveraged their wildcard spot into a Lake League Championship Series appearance against Montreal, who once again foiled his plans for a first Bull Cup ring, pushing out the Moose 3-2. The year was a personal success overall, though, as Suga collected hit #1000, and he made another Bull League All-Star Game appearance.
In 2018, his batting average crashed to .216, the lowest of his career. Although he still contributed with some power and run production, it was clear that he had hit his wall offensively. At defense, he was still a plus-plus first baseman, and with a year left on his contract he was an expensive but productive contributor. In the final year of the deal, in 2019 he put up similar offensive numbers for the club, now relocated to Pittsburgh and renamed the Iron Pigs, hitting .220 and matching his 2018 home run tally with 14, playing 107 games out of the 162 scheduled.
He retired from professional baseball after the 2019 season.