Mariners News: Mike Zunino Likely to Begin 2016 in AAA


With the recent additions the Seattle Mariners have made behind the plate, what does the future hold for Mike Zunino?

The Seattle Mariners have done a great job creating depth at the catching position this offseason. A month into the offseason, Jerry Dipoto has acquired a new starting catcher and backup for the Mariners. This is all well and good, but what does it mean for 2015 starter Mike Zunino?

Chris Iannetta had a dismal season for the Los Angeles Angels last year, posting a .188 batting average with 10 home runs and 34 RBI across 92 games. Despite his sub .200 average, Iannetta still managed to register a .293 on base percentage. He ultimately lost his starting gig to Carlos Perez, but his defense was noticeably improved.

Jun 17, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Angels catcher Chris Iannetta against the Arizona Diamondbacks during an interleague game at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The 32-year-old Providence, RI native has put together a very solid 10-year career in the big leagues. Iannetta has hit .231 with 100 home runs and 378 RBI across 852 games with the Colorado Rockies and Angels. His .351 career on base percentage is very impressive, and should be a big boost to the bottom third of the Mariners’ lineup.

It’s clear that Dipoto signed Iannetta to be the Mariners’ starting catcher in 2016. He may not play everyday, but he should get the bulk of the work behind the plate. He is an adequate defender and provides decent pop with the bat. However, he is fresh off the worst season of his career, and is more of a short-term solution in Seattle.

The initial expectation was that Iannetta and Zunino would share the catching duties in 2016, but trading for Steve Clevenger does away with that theory. The 29-year-old got an extended look in the big leagues last season, and he ran with it. Clevenger hit .287 with 4 doubles, 2 triples, 2 home runs and 15 RBI across 30 games for the Baltimore Orioles. He registered a .314 on base percentage and slugged .426.

However, Clevenger has always been a liability behind the plate. His arm can best be described as weak. The Baltimore, MD product threw out 20% of potential base stealers in 2015. That figure is not awful, but his career average of 14% is. His 7.39 range factor per 9 innings last season fell well shy of the 8.28 league average.

The Mariners had to part with Mark Trumbo and C.J. Riefenhauser to land Clevenger. That is a lot to give up for a player you do not envision contributing in 2016. Thus, I believe Clevenger will see plenty of action next season for Seattle. He will likely spend the majority of his time backing up at catcher and first base, with the occasional start at designated hitter.

It appears the plan is to send Mike Zunino to Tacoma at the beginning next season. Zunino drew comparisons to Jason Varitek when the Mariners selected him third overall in the 2012 draft. However, he was inexplicably rushed to the big leagues after playing just 96 games in the minor leagues.

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The 24-year-old had a miserable season with the Mariners in 2015. Zunino posted a .174 batting average with 11 doubles, 11 home runs and 28 RBI across 112 games. He improved slightly following the hiring of Edgar Martinez, but the M’s opted to demote him to Tacoma at the end of August. Zunino excelled in his brief time in the Pacific Coast League, posting a .317 average with 3 home runs and 8 RBI.

Following the season, Seattle decided to send Zunino to the Instructional League in Arizona to overhaul his swing. It is very disappointing that Zunino’s career has essentially been derailed because of Jack Zduriencik’s shortsightedness. Through 295 games with the Mariners, Zunino is hitting .193 with 38 home runs and 102 RBI.

Zunino’s offensive production has left plenty to be desired, but his work behind the plate has been amongst the best in league. He does a fantastic job working with the pitching staff and framing pitches. Zunino has gunned down 28% percentage of potential base stealers during his three-year career. His 8.50 range factor per 9 innings is significantly better than the league average of 8.25.

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I would not be surprised to see the University of Florida alum spend the entire 2016 season with the Rainiers. There is obviously a chance that he hits his way back onto the roster or is promoted due to injury. However, I think Dipoto wants to give Zunino as much time as necessary to develop before throwing him to the wolves at Safeco Field.