The Mike Zunino Effect

By Josh (9 Inning Know It All):

This past June, Mariners fans began hearing confirmation that the M’s were going to use the 3rd overall pick on Mike Zunino, a catcher from the University of Florida.  Many fans thought, “Oh great another pick used on a catcher.”  A lot of fans remembered a previously 3rd overall pick by the Mariners named Jeff Clement.  Clement was a power hitting catcher out of the University of Southern California, who never really panned out in professional baseball.

Mike Zunino batting Seattle Mariners Everett AquaSox

Mike Zunino’s bat impressed Mariner fans in a big way.

Clement as the 3rd overall pick was a reach in the eyes of many people in 2005.  For fans the feeling that history was repeating itself all over again crept in.  What many fans didn’t realize though is that Mike Zunino is not Jeff Clement.

Zunino was awarded the Golden Spikes Award this year for being the best amateur player in the nation.  Awards are great and all, but listen to the list of winners since 2003:  Rickie Weeks, Jered Weaver, Alex Gordon, Tim Lincecum, David Price, Buster Posey, Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, and Trevor Bauer.  For those of you have avoided all baseball news in the past 10 years this list includes a few Cy Young Awards, a Rookie of the Year, a decent number of All-Star game appearances, and depending on the 2012 voting an NL MVP and another Rookie of the Year.

Mike Zunino catching Seattle Mariners Everett AquaSox

Zunino showed that his defense was worth mentioning as well.

If that wasn’t enough to get fans excited about Zunino, his 2012 season caught a lot of Mariners fans attention and in a good way.  In 29 games with the Everett AquaSox he hit .373 with 10 homeruns.  His first and second professional homeruns were impressive.  Being the team photographer for the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes afforded me the opportunity to be present when Zunino hit these homeruns.

His homeruns were impressive but it was the other parts of his at bats that impressed me.  In every at bat that I watched there was always this feeling that he was in control of the at bat and not the pitcher.  It was like he knew exactly what he had to do to make the pitcher throw him the pitch he wanted.  Even the foul balls that he hit on bad pitches were hit hard.

After tearing up the Northwest League he was moved up to the Double-A Jackson Generals.  In 15 games Zunino only hit .333 with 3 homeruns.  Disappointing I know, but as a Mariner fan I guess I’ll have to live with those stats.  Heck as a Mariner fan these stats make him the hero riding in on a white horse to rescue the Mariners organization from its punishment in the dungeons of baseball obscurity.

Now a lot of Mariner fans are calling for the team to give Zunino a shot to be the starting catcher with the major league club out of spring training.  To that I have to tell fans to take a step back, take a deep breath and not be so hasty.

Mike Zunino with some fans Seattle Mariners Everett AquaSox

Moments like this builds loyalty in fans that goes beyond the field of play.

Having been given the opportunity to talk with Zunino for a few minutes while he was in Salem, and getting to watch him play in three games I will be the first to praise this young ball player with how he amazingly handled himself both on and off of the field.  You can tell that he loves the game of baseball, but doesn’t let baseball get in the way of being a humble and authentic person first.

Do I think he could handle playing at the Major League level, yes, but that doesn’t mean that he should be forced to do that just yet.  I’m okay with seeing him play another month at Double-A and then move up to Triple-A for a while.  As talented as he is, there is still a lot that he can learn from the coaches in the Mariners system.

The good news is that Mariners fans are seeing a future that includes the playoffs, in large part because of the success they see Mike Zunino having along with other top prospects in the system.  Hope is a funny thing especially for a city that has been grasping for it with their baseball team for a while.

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