Before I go any farther: No, he’s not ready. But I think he could be soon, given the right circumstances.
Today the Mariners DFA’d catcher Henry Blanco. This wasn’t a huge surprise, given that Blanco was only mediocre in 34 appearances with the Mariners this season. Although he did have a pinch-hit grand slam, which ranks as one of the high points of my viewing season. Blanco has been all over the major leagues, and I suspect it won’t be long before we see him packing up and headed somewhere else. Most importantly, now that Blanco is gone, the Mariners are left with Humberto Quintero and Mike Zunino at catcher. Jesus Sucre is on the 40 man roster as well, but I think we can all agree that he just isn’t ready.
Mike Zunino made his MLB debut this season, he’s been very highly touted for quite some time, and I think we’re all in agreement that it’s nice to be excited about something. Lets take a brief look back at his 2013 season. We saw Zunino 52 times this season, and he was the starting catcher for 49 of those appearances. Importantly, he made virtually all of the Mariners starts for September and got a taste of what it’s like to be the every day catcher in the Bigs. This season, Zunino hit for a triple slash of .214/.290/.329. At the same time he hit 5 homers and 14 RBIs. Those numbers aren’t stellar by any stretch of the imagination. For a guy who was so hyped up I think there was a little bit of disappointment in the air surrounding his season. Fangraphs lists his offensive WAR as a dismal -4.8 for 2013. Here’s a fun fact, that’s among the worst for the entire Mariners roster on the season, but still better than Henry Blanco (-9.3) and the suspended Jesus Montero (-6.1).
Admittedly, catchers aren’t always brought in for their offensive abilities. Zunino has been a bit of a disappointment compared to what we all expected, but at least he wasn’t atrocious.
Defensively, Zunino was moderately better. With only two passed balls on the season, he’s not a complete defensive liability. On the other hand, Zunino was able to throw out only 6 stealing attempts this season. Zunino’s overall dWAR finished at a -1.8. Some might feel that isn’t truly acceptable, but given that more than half of the Mariners roster is sub-zero in that category. That’s not really making excuses for him, but I just wanted to point out that he’s not the worst-of-the-worst.
One season is admittedly a small sample size. Zunino is still a new guy and it’s to be expected that he take a few seasons to fully develop and get into rhythm. Humberto Quintero is signed through next season, and with any luck, Zunino will be able to find his stride next year and give the Mariners some options behind the plate. And lets not forget about Jesus Montero. After getting slapped with 50 games as part of the Biogenesis scandal, we all but forgot about him.
“If he was that bad on ‘roids, how can he be any good without them?”
There’s still hope for Jesus, I think so, anyways. Optimistically, the best case scenario for 2014 would be Zunino has a breakout season, Humberto is allowed to fade into the shadows, and Montero plays well enough in Tacoma to earn a backup spot on the big club.
It’s going to take a lot of work. We’re all leery of committing to guys too early in their careers (erm… Dustin Ackley…), but there’s still a lot of hope for the guy. He needs some serious, positive direction. I don’t mean playing behind Humberto for the season and getting tips, I mean he needs someone to go in there and let him learn how to call a game. The only way to do that is by getting starts. We’re still waiting to hear who next year’s manager will be, but we can only hope he wants to develop all these young guys properly. (On a side note, I have this theory that Eric Wedge left because that’s how he wanted to develop the team, but the front-office guys are looking for the one-stop shopping method of wins, which caused a lot of friction. Hopefully this isn’t the case).
This is in accordance with my idea of how the M’s should rebuild; from within. Develop the talent they have, allow the older guys to teach, then disappear, and build a deep lineup.
In short, Zunino isn’t ready to take the helm, it’s Ludacris to think he is, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want him to.