3 Mariners who will be Surprise All Stars in 2015
Feb 21, 2015; Peoria, AZ, USA; Seattle Mariners catcherMike Zunino
(3) catches bullpen during camp at Peoria Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports
2014 was Mike Zunino’s first full season in Seattle, and he showed flashes of why he was selected 3rd overall in the 2012 draft. The 24-year-old backstop is a powerful young man, and his 22 home runs last season were proof of his incredible strength. However, his .199/.254/.404 slash line across 438 at bats left plenty to be desired. He struck out 158 times, and walked just 17 times in 138 games. Zunino accomplished the rare feat of getting hit by a pitch the same amount of times as he walked in 2014.
Defensively, Zunino is already establishing a reputation as one of the top young catchers in baseball. He did a wonderful job handling the M’s pitching staff last season, and maximizing their talents. He is a great pitch framer, and does a nice job blocking balls in the dirt. He threw out an impressive 28% of potential base stealers, and posted a fielding percentage of .995. He slowed down near the end of the season, but fatigue played a big role in his decline. Zunino’s 130 games behind the plate ranked 2nd in the American League.
Zunino has been one of the hottest hitters in baseball this spring. The Mariners’ catcher hit .352 with 7 home runs and 14 RBI’s across 54 Cactus League at bats. His 7 dingers were good for second in the league, and his .353 batting average ranked second on the club this spring. His .435 on base percentage and .852 slugging percentage were both tops on the M’s in Spring Training. Zunino collected 6 doubles in Arizona, which tied for the team lead with Cano. The University of Florida alum struck out 14 times, and worked an eye popping tally of 7 free passes.
Zunino made a few changes to his mechanics at the plate this winter, and the results have been very encouraging thus far. The most noticeable difference is his batting stance. Zunino is much more spread out, and he has cut down significantly on his stride. I’m fine with Zunino not getting on base very often, but his .199 batting average needs to improve dramatically this season. If he can post a .240 batting average, 30 home runs would be a fair projection for one of the most powerful young hitters in all of baseball.
In terms of other catchers vying for a spot on the All Star team, there is not a whole lot of competition for Mike Zunino in the American League. Most experts consider Salvador Perez the best backstop in the AL, but Zunino is talented enough to represent the M’s in Cincinnati this July. Zunino enters the season sitting comfortably in the top 5 or 6 catchers in the American League. Matt Weiters, Russell Martin, Brian McCann and Yan Gomes are the only real contenders to steal the spot from the Mariners’ young catcher.