The Mariners are officially out of the playoff hunt, so now that I can stop focusing on this year, I am going to start focusing on the future.
Over the next few days and weeks, I am going to take a look at the future of each position for the Mariners. When I use the term “future,” I am searching for a franchise player who will take over the position and stay for some time. To start my series of articles, I will go behind the dish.
The current catchers on roster are Miguel Olivo, John Jaso, and Jesus Montero. Olivo will likely leave Seattle after the season and Jaso and Montero will remain.
Montero has done a better job than I expected him to when the season began, but he still isn’t going to be a catcher in the
long term. His bat, defense, and value all point towards a career at first base or DH.
Jaso has also had a break out year, but I don’t see him being a guy that will be behind the dish 130 games a year for the next decade.
In the minor leagues, the Mariners have guys including
Brandon Bantz, Jesus Sucre, Ralph Henriquez, Jack Marder, John Hicks, Steven Baron, Mike Zunino, Marcus Littlewood, and Tyler Marlette.
Out of these names, the most likely guy to be a big league catcher is certainly the third overall pick in the 2012 draft, Mike Zunino. The Florida product has steamrolled pitching in A- and AA in his first two months of professional baseball. Before being promoted to AA Jackson, Zunino posted a 1.210 OPS in 29 games at A- Everett.
In Jackson, his production has hardly faltered. After 15 games, he boasts a line of .333/.386/.588 and also three homeruns and four doubles. These stats do not include his astounding performance in the AA playoffs. Zunino is certainly the catcher of the future for the Mariners, the question is when he will be ready to start everyday in Seattle.
Considering the rate that Zunino has accelerated through the farm system, I believe that it is realistic to expect to see him in the MLB next year. If he has a great spring training, Zunino could find himself on the opening day roster, although that would be a bit of a stretch. At the latest, Zunino should be a September call-up in 2013.
Assuming that the Florida product is the long-term solution for catcher that Mariners are searching for, the biggest problem is who will fill the catcher role for the Mariners until Zunino gets there. The John Jaso/Jesus Montero combination should do an adequate job of filling this void until Zunino is capable of replacing them.
As for other options in the minor leagues, none of the other names have a ceiling that is even on the same level as Zunino. Although not quite the same as Zunino, Jack Marder is another good catching prospect the organization. In High Desert this year, he hit .360 with a 1.008 OPS. High Desert teammate, John Hicks, had 49 extra base hits in 121 games. While it’s true that nearly everyone hits well in the California League, don’t entirely write off their performances. Both of those guys could get a look in the MLB if by some disaster Zunino is hit by a meteor or by a plane and is unable to play.
I would bet on Mike Zunino being Seattle’s everyday catcher for a long time, but keep the other names in mind just in case.