Mariners Analysis: Has Mike Zunino Turned Over a New Leaf?
By Riley Baker
Mike Zunino has shown signs of improvement since being recalled to the Seattle Mariners.
Mike Zunino has carried high expectations ever since being drafted third overall in the 2012 draft. His first stint in the majors didn’t go as well as everyone had hoped, but he has flashed with the stick since being recalled on June 30.
The power hitting catcher made his much anticipated major league debut on June 12, 2013, just one year after he had been drafted. Many questioned whether or not he had been rushed through the farm system when he finished the season with a slash of .214/.290/.329 with five homeruns and a WAR of 0.2 in 52 games played. Zunino also finished with a BB/K of 0.33—below average, but nothing out of the ordinary for a player’s first year against big league pitching.
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Zunino’s next two seasons with the Mariners made it clear that he had some holes in his approach at the plate. Over the next two seasons, the University of Florida product saw his BB/K drop to 0.11 in 2014 and 0.16 in 2015, averaging just one walk in every 23 plate appearances in those two years. He was demoted back to AAA Tacoma on August 28, 2015.
This season with the Mariners, the 25-year-old has had 35 at-bats in 12 games. Despite the small sample size, his numbers have shown improvement. His slash is at an improved .286/.390/.800 and has slugged five homeruns while driving in seven. Even his BB/K has improved to 0.50 while working a walk once every eight at-bats—That’s nearly three times as often as he was walking over his first few seasons.
Zunino is putting together better at-bats and finding ways to reach base better than he ever has before. His defense has always been above average, and if his hitting can be even just average, Zunino will be a very valuable player. He has already compiled a WAR of 0.5 in 12 games after having a WAR of -0.7 last season, and that’s something to be enthusiastic about moving forward.
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Sure, 12 games is a really small sample size. But Mariners fans tend to expect the worst, so Zunino’s short run of showing improvement is a sight for sore eyes in Seattle. Maybe he isn’t quite the second coming of Mike Piazza, but he isn’t hitting well below the Mendoza line either, so that’s something. Hopefully this trend continues through the rest of the season and Zunino is a new man in the batter’s box.