Mariners’ Mike Zunino & Dan Wilson are Another Year Wiser


March 25 must be the day of the catcher. Mike Zunino turned 24 on Wednesday, and Dan Wilson is 46 today. It cannot be a coincidence that two of the best backstops in Mariners’ history stare a birthday.

Many experts have pegged Mike Zunino as the future Dan Wilson in Seattle, so the irony in them having the same birthday is clear. In fact, Wilson and Zunino have much more than just a birthday in common. Both are at least 6’2, both are former first round picks, both made their big league debuts prior to turning 24, and both have a reputation of knowing the best way to get the most out of a pitching staff.

The Cincinnati Reds selected Dan Wilson 7th overall in the 1992 draft out of the University of Minnesota. Lou Piniella was Wilson’s first skipper with the Reds. Piniella thought so highly of the young man that he brought Wilson to Seattle following his first season as boss of the Mariners. Wilson is a .262 career hitter, with 88 home runs and 519 RBI’s.

Dan Wilson was the steadying force on the Mariners as they unexpectedly charged to the postseason in 1995. He will forever be remembered for leaping into Randy Johnson’s arms following the ’95 one game playoff with the California Angels. Wilson had his best seasons with the Mariners from 1995 through 1997. He slashed .278/.330/.428 across 1398 at bats. He averaged 14 home runs per season, with 69 RBI’s. Wilson made his lone All Star appearance in 1996 after he hit .285 with a career high 18 dingers and 83 runs batted in.

The Mariners’ Hall of Famer is considered to be one of the best defensive catchers of his era. He posted a career fielding percentage of .995. Wilson rarely made a miscue behind the plate, and he ranked in the top 5 single season leaders in fielding percentage amongst catchers on 9 separate occasions. Wilson threw out 33% of potential base stealers over the course of his 14 seasons. He registered a career range factor per 9 innings of 7.45.

Dan Wilson is currently the Mariners minor league catching coordinator. Wilson is likely spending his 46th birthday on a diamond in Peoria molding the young backstops in the M’s farm system.

Mike Zunino is widely considered one of the top young catchers in baseball. The M’s used the 3rd overall pick in the 2012 draft on Zunino. After just 96 games in the minor leagues, Zunino made his big league debut in June of 2013. He excelled in his first full season with the Mariners in 2014. The University of Florida tallied 22 home runs and drove in 60 RBI’s across 438 at bats. His .199 batting average was disappointing, however much of struggles were due to fatigue.

Feb 21, 2015; Peoria, AZ, USA; Seattle Mariners catcher Mike Zunino (3) catches bullpen during camp at Peoria Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

The most impressive aspect of Zunino’s game last season was his ability to get the best of the Mariners’ pitchers. Zunino guided the pitching staff to historic highs, and helped make the M’s bullpen the best in baseball. Zunino posted a .995 fielding percentage over the course of 130 games behind the plate. His 8.78 range factor per 9 innings was good for 5th in the American League. Zunino threw out 28% of potential base stealers in 2014.

Looking forward, Mike Zunino projects as a future All Star, and a potential middle of the order bat. He has been great this year in spring training, hitting .313 with 3 doubles, 3 home runs, and 7 RBI’s. Zunino has the presence of a wily old veteran despite being just 24-years-old. He has been the talk of Mariners’ camp this spring, and if he can raise his average into the .240 area, he could hit 30 home runs in 2015.

We are all very fortunate to call Dan Wilson and Mike Zunino Mariners. Wilson is one of the most respected men in the Seattle baseball community, and deservingly so. Zunino has the makings of the next Dan Wilson on and off the field. Wilson was critical for the Mariners during their playoff runs of the mid 90’s and early 2000’s, and hopefully Zunino will help get the M’s back into the postseason in 2015.

On behalf of everyone at SoDo Mojo I want to wish Dan Wilson and Mike Zunino a very Happy Birthday. I think I know what they will both be wishing for when they blow out their candles, World Series rings!

Next: Is Shawn O’Malley the Next Willie Bloomquist?

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