When the Mariners picked Mike Zunino 3rd overall in the first round of the 2012 draft, they knew they were receiving a special player in a very challenging position. Yes, the Mariners had recently traded for Jesus Montero at the time, but you never know what can happen with the catcher position.
Zunino not only carries outstanding catching ability behind the plate, he also brings a bat with high average and power ability. Zunino led the Florida Gators to three consecutive College World Series and was named the SEC conference player of the year in just his sophomore year. By the end of his senior year, he had won the Golden Spikes Award, Johnny Bench award and the Dick Howser Trophy for being the best baseball player in college.
Luckily for the Mariners, using their first round pick on Zunino proved to be a great move regarding depth at the position. Mariners starting catcher Montero had a good first season with Seattle in 2012, but ended up being sent to the minors early in 2013 and later suspended 50 games for his illegal PED use. Now with Montero showing up to Spring Training 40lbs overweight and practicing at the 1B position, Zunino has been more than penciled in as the starter behind the plate.
The Mariners did not plan to rush Zunino the big league ball club so early in his development. After he was drafted in 2012, he mashed the ball in the minors. During his short stint with the Class A (Short) Aquasox, Zunino belted 10 HR and 35 RBI while batting a stellar .373. This was all accomplished before his August call up to the Double-A affiliate Jackson Generals.
Zunino then started the 2013 year with the Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers as their starting catcher. With Montero’s early failure that season and injuries to the Mariners depth at catcher position, the Ms were forced to call up Zunino on June 11th, 2013. This proved to be too soon for his development, as Zunino finished the year batting only .214 with 5 HRs and 14 RBI.
The Mariners continued to strengthen the depth at the catcher position this offseason with the acquisition of free agent John Buck. The 33-year old Buck was a surprise fantasy add last year belting 15 HRs and finishing with 60 RBI. His offense did drop off by end of year for the Mets, finishing with a low .222 batting average.
Adding Buck’s 10 years of MLB experience will be a great compliment to Zunino’s development. This will allow Zunino to start at catcher, and have veteran catcher with Buck step in when Zunino needs a rest. The Mariners want Zunino to hit well and contribute offensively for 2014, so expect the coaching staff to pencil his bat 7th or 8th in the lineup. This will allow Zunino to focus on polishing his hitting style, and stay focused on improving without the pressure that comes with hitting in the middle of the lineup.
The 2013 season proved to be a disappointing year for the Mariners at the catcher position, but expect 2014 to be a different story with the Zunino/Buck combo.