Mike Zunino Called Up; What it Means, and Was it Smart?
By JJ Keller
It was reported earlier that the Mariners are calling up top prospect and catcher Mike Zunino. Patrick touched on this when it was announced, but I am here to expand on it, and maybe offer some analysis to the move.
At first glance, it is extremely surprising that they chose to call him up all of the sudden, as he really has not impressed in his time thus far in Triple-A.
The puzzling move have led many to speculate that this was a move made out of desperation. Desperation from Jack Zduriencik to try to give a spark to the sinking ship that he is the captain of. Whether that is true or not is up for discussion, but it certainly has some logic behind it.
The other option is that, for some unknown reason, this team believes he is ready to contribute at the major league level. While he has hit well here and there, and shown good power, he has been very underwhelming overall. Even with a hot streak as of late, he is hitting just .238/.303/.503 with 11 homers on the year, good for a power driven .806 OPS.
So while the .800+ OPS looks alright, it is somewhat empty in that most of it is coming from dingers, rather than a good approach, or discipline, or contact. Word is he got off to a hot start when guys were feeding him fastballs that he was proceeding to mash. But pitchers have since adjusted their approach, and have been tossing him breaking balls that he has had a tough time handling.
I do not know if others share this opinion, but when deciding if a player is ready for a call up, I would put more weight in his peripherals, like contact rates, K rates and walk rates, rather than his ability to hit home runs in a league that makes Carlos Peguero look like Barry Bonds. Yeah, power is great, and if you have a lot of it, it will help you produce. But you also have to be able to make contact, draw walks, and not whiff at anything other than heaters.
And unfortunately, his “periphs” are underwhelming. He had a 28.4% K rate, to go with a lowly 6.7% BB rate. That 28.4 mark translates to 59 strikeouts in 47 games. Needless to say, that’s not good. At all.
That is what makes this move so perplexing, and, quite frankly, stupid. By most accounts, maybe everyone but the organization, Zunino was not ready to be called up. That is clear from what I mentioned above, along with some awful splits (which may or may not matter).
And it is also why people seem to think this was a move made to try to save Jack Zduriencik’s job. Now, as I briefly mentioned before, it does not guarantee that was the case, or the only reason. This team is also depleted at the moment, as if they weren’t before. And with Brandon Bantz as your backup catcher, a guy who probably wouldn’t ever see the bigs without injury, there is a chance they just wanted to stay competitive, and that is fine.
So let’s say that is the case, even though it isn’t. It is still pretty ill-advised when you think about the future affects it could have. You quite clearly rush a guy up to help for a few weeks, while harming him in the process. You take him away from the comfort of the minors, where things can be worked on first and foremost, against weak pitching, and throw him into the fire without the proper safety equipment, if you will.
So while he should be in Tacoma working on how to hit breaking balls against guys who are also trying to work on throwing those breaking balls, he will instead be up here trying to succeed against much better pitching. And there is a good chance that, in the process, you hurt him in the future, or at the very least elongate his needed development time.
Because of that, even if this is just a short term move based on the lack of depth at catcher, it probably isn’t a good idea. Even if he goes back down when Jesus Sucre comes off the DL, it doesn’t make much sense. Plus, if that is the reason they are doing this, why wouldn’t they have just done it in the first place? Why did they choose to call up Brandon Bantz for a week, just to decide they want Zunino instead?
Unfortunately, all signs point to this being a desperate move by a desperate man with lots of power.
Although we will never really know the real reason, it is safe to assume the above. And if true, man does it grind my gears. I, and I am sure many others, were on the Z train from the beginning. He was supposed to be a great drafter, who was forward thinking in the area of statistical analysis. He stacked the farm system with can’t miss players. How could this team not succeed?
But what we have come to find out is that it was only partly true. He may be a good drafter, and he did stock the farm. But few of those draftees have come to fruition in the majors. The team has had one winning season with him at the helm. And he recently cleaned-house of a lot of the statistical analysis guys (such as Tom Tango), and replaced them, and the idea of small ball, with an old school mentality, based on dingers, and clubhouse chemistry.
Maybe Zunino will come up and surprise us. Maybe the recent success he showed in AAA will carry over to the bigs, and he will help this team get back to a more respectable level. Or maybe he will look exactly how he did in AAA, only worse, and that will lead to a disruption in his development, and he will never be the same. That part, we don’t know until it happens.
But what we probably do know is that Jack Z is scared. He knows he hasn’t been successful, and is willing to do anything to get this team to where we want them to be, and in turn save his own ass. Or at the very least, keep it safe for a little longer. Let’s just hope this works out, or at least that its affects are minimal.