Mike Zunino to Learn From John Buck This Year
By Matt Seto
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
We’re going to be seeing a lot more of Mike Zunino this season, and that’s okay.
Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon announced that the 2014 season will begin with young catching phenom Mike Zunino taking the lions share of starts behind the plate.
This is at least mildly surprising, given that the Mariners chased the likes of John Buck during the winter, but it seems that the M’s are hoping that the veteran catcher can teach Zunino a thing or two to further cultivate the young star.
It’s no secret that the Mariners are in pitching trouble right out of the gate. Injuries to Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker have left the starting rotation in limbo for at least another few weeks.
There’s going to be a lot of turbulence in the battery while new faces get acquainted to the big leagues. Ordinarily, you’d like to see some veteran leadership behind the plate to calm these guys down and keep them out of trouble.
Surely the Mariners will have brought Buck to Seattle as a leader for the young Zunino. If Zunino is really going to be burdening the majority of time at catcher, then he’s going to need to learn to settle the pitching staff down.
After his half season last year, Zunino was lauded for his ability to work with his new pitching staff, so a guy like John Buck, who has been around the league for 10 years, is a perfect mentor for Zunino as he refines his skills.
Zunino was thrown almost head first into the show last year after less than one hundred games in the minors.
He was selected by the Mariners in the first round of 2012, and was fast tracked to Tacoma by 2013. Finally landing a gig in Seattle halfway through that season. A situation described by Greg Johns as “Sink or swim”.
Calling and controlling a game are going to be the hallmarks of Zunino’s instruction this year, but that’s certainly not all that the Mariners want from him. Lets not forget that this is the young rookie phenom who slapped 11 homers and 43 RBIs in only 50 games in Tacoma.
Zunino represents one of the few right handed bats in the Mariners lineup, and McClendon certainly wants to take advantage of that. While last seasons big league numbers weren’t spectacular (let’s not forget he broke a bone in his hand and missed all of August), he certainly took advantage of the learning opportunities he was presented with.
During the offseason, and in spring training, McClendon had Zunino work closely with hitting coach Howard Johnson, in an attempt to squeeze every last bit of power out of his bat.
What’s resulting is a catcher who McClendon describes as “Not a sure out.” But more than that, Zunino could turn into one of those deep lineup guys who can drive in runs, something the Mariners have been lacking in the last few seasons.
The M’s approach to Justin Smoak has been to encourage him to poke the ball into gaps, and if one game this season is any indication, he’s learned how to do that a little bit. With Zunino, the goal should be similar, learn to drive the ball deep when he can, but otherwise spray into the whole field. Lots of extra bases and lots of RBIs. Something that Zunino claims to have worked on quite hard during the spring.
The Mariners are once again going to throw Zunino into the fire and let him handle most games behind the plate this season, and while he isn’t a wily veteran like his counterpart John Buck, there’s certainly lots that Buck can teach him about pacing a game.
The true value of Zunino, however, comes from his abilities with the bat. The Mariners are a completely different ball team this year, designed to score lots and lots of runs, if Zunino can find a solid swing and be a deep lineup RBI threat we all want him to be, then we’ll be seeing much, much more of him. And that’s okay.